Mikulski Asks Homeland Security Secretary to Make Available Unused H-2B Visas

US Senator Barbara Mikulski

US Senator Barbara Mikulski

During Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, on April 29, U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski hand-delivered a letter to Jeh Johnson, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, to conduct an audit on the number of non-immigrant H-2B visas that have been both requested and used in 2015.

H-2B visa is a program that provides seasonal labor to Maryland’s seafood industry, according to a news release.

“Maryland businesses that use the H-2B visa program have a real problem right now, and that’s that, because of the H-2B visa caps, they can’t get the H-2B visas this year that they need to run their businesses. But I have a suggestion for how to beat this problem. I’m requesting that you do an audit of how many non-immigrant H-2B visas have been requested and how many have been used. That would allow you to give the unused visas to businesses that need them,” Mikulski said.

According to officials from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officials, 90 petitions were filed in 2014, but 86 were approved.

“These businesses need a government on their side. Every time there is a bureaucratic rule change or legal interpretation that harms their ability to operate their business, they lose another piece of their livelihood. They need a functioning H-2B program,” Mikulski said.

Mikulski also requested in the letter that any “any unused visas should be promptly made available to eligible businesses that have been unable to secure workers. More than 40 percent of Maryland’s seafood processors have been unable to get the workers they need for the 2015 crab season. Businesses that did have visas approved were still unable to cross workers due to the uncertainty that has plagued the H-2B program this year.”

According to the news release, seasonal workers returning to the U.S. under H-2B visas are critical to ensuring Maryland’s seafood businesses have the labor force they need during peak harvest season. For every H-2B visa granted, four American jobs are created. The return rate for H-2B workers in Maryland is 80 percent every year.

Here’s full letter: 

April 28, 2015

The Honorable Jeh Johnson
Secretary
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528

Dear Secretary Johnson:

I am writing to request that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) conduct an immediate & expedited audit on the number of non-immigrant H-2B visas that have been both requested and used in 2015. Any unused visas uncovered as a part of this audit should be promptly made available to eligible businesses that have been unable to secure workers due to the cap being reached.

I requested a similar audit of requested vs. allocated & used visas when the cap was reached in 2009. At that time, DHS concluded that more than 20,000 visas were, in fact, unused.

Secretary Johnson, the lack of available temporary foreign workers has caused chaos among businesses in MD that depend on the H-2B program. More than 40% of Maryland’s seafood processors have been unable to get the workers they need for the 2015 crab season. Businesses that did have visas approved were still unable to cross workers due to the uncertainty that has plagued the H-2B program this year. This is unacceptable.

These businesses need a government on their side. Every time there is a bureaucratic rule change or legal interpretation that harms their ability to operate their business, they lose another piece of their livelihood. They need a functioning H-2B program.

Again, I urge you to conduct an expedited audit on the number of non-immigrant H-2B visas that have been both requested and approved and used in 2015, and to re-allocate any unused visas to eligible businesses that have been unable to secure workers due to the cap being reached.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

 

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Aline Barros

About Aline Barros

Aline Barros is a multimedia reporter and community engagement specialist with Montgomery Community Media. She can be reached at Abarros@mymcmedia.org and on Twitter at @AlineBarros2.

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