Senator Claims that H2B workers are essential to Maryland's crab industry
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) recently introduced legislation to enact a three-year extension for a crucial provision in her "Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act," which was signed into law by President Bush in May 2005. The companion bill was also introduced today in the U.S. House by Congressman Charles Bass (R-N.H.).
The "Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act" made significant changes to the federal H2B (non-skilled seasonal worker) visa program that resulted in saving thousands of small businesses around the country. Among the changes, it exempted returning seasonal workers from counting against the national cap of 66,000 people, created new anti-fraud provisions and ensured a fair allocation of H2B visas among spring and summer employees. The cap exemption, which provided significant relief to Maryland's crab industry that often hires the same dependable workers every year, is set to expire on September 30, 2006.
"I promised small businesses they could count on me to keep fighting until we had a solution and they had the seasonal workers they needed to stay in business. My promises made are promises kept," said Senator Mikulski. "This extension is necessary to make sure that small, seasonal businesses don't run into the same crisis they faced last year - unable to get the workers they need to survive their season. Without these seasonal workers, many businesses could be forced to limit services, lay off permanent U.S. workers or, worse yet, close their doors."
The Senator took up this cause after learning that many businesses across the country, and particularly in Maryland, were unable to obtain temporary, documented, seasonal, foreign workers through the H2B program. For the second year in a row, the H2B visa cap of 66,000 was reached just a few months into the 2005 fiscal year. Because companies are not allowed to apply for workers more than 120 days before they are needed, many Maryland businesses - that need about 7,700 workers - were unable to apply for visas before the cap was reached.
These workers are vital for many companies - including seafood processing, landscaping and hospitality companies - to stay in business. In fact, many use the H2B visa program year after year to legally hire temporary and seasonal staff when American workers are unavailable.
A bipartisan group of Senators have joined as co-sponsors to Senator Mikulski's bill, including: Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.), John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), James M. Jeffords (I-Vt.), Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), John Warner and George Allen (both R-Va.).