H-2B worker visa processing resumed

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Department of Homeland Security officials announced late Tuesday that they will resume processing applications for seasonal foreign worker visas used by thousands of workers in Maine’s tourism industry.

Maine Senators Susan Collins and Angus King released the news. In a prepared statement they acknowledged that action’s importance to the state.

“Not proceeding with the applications would have created tremendous economic hardship for businesses around the state, particularly within in the tourism industry, and would have unnecessarily hurt the state’s economy,” they said.

“We will continue to work with the Department to find a permanent fix to this problem and fight for Maine businesses that rely on H-2B workers.”

The move could affect more than 200 people employed by Mount Desert Island hotels and restaurants.

Also on Tuesday, an unopposed motion for an injunction clearing the way for the federal government to issue H2B visas critical for staffing Maine’s summer tourism businesses was filed in federal court in Washington D.C.

According to Greg Dugal, director of the Maine Innkeepers Association, the injunction would allow the H2B visa requests already in the pipeline to be processed through April 15. Officials hope to have new rules in place by that time.

On Monday, Maine’s U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King urged immigration officials to resume processing visa requests. Earlier this month, H2B visa application processing was suspended in response to a judgment from a U.S. District court. In a letter the Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Leon Rodriguez and labor department officials, Senators Collins and King argue that the court decision has limited reach and does not present an impediment to USCIS or USDOL to continue processing applications.

H2B visas, which certify immigrants to work temporarily in the United States, are heavily relied upon in Maine’s many tourism communities that are in need of seasonal, temporary workers. Each summer Maine businesses hire an estimated 35,000 seasonal workers. Once a business demonstrates if cannot find local workers to fill those jobs, they are allowed to employ people with the H2B visas.

H2B visas are frequently used by workers in the hotel and restaurant industries. Officials estimate around 250 summer workers on Mount Desert Island make use of the H2B visa program. Most apply early in the season and would likely be processed if the injunction is granted, Dugal explained.

In the letter, Senators Collins and King argue that the court decision has limited reach and does not present an impediment to USCIS or USDOL to continue processing applications.

“Many Maine employers rely on H2B workers,” wrote the senators. “The unilateral delay you have imposed, if not promptly lifted, will create great hardship on these employers and limit the services they can provide to their customers and the general public. The economic impact on the state of Maine as well as across the country could be severe.”

The Senators urged officials to immediately resume processing H2B applications to mitigate any potential economic repercussions.

“Those applications that have been approved should be finalized and those that are pending should be put into a priority system and processed according to their merits,” they wrote.

According to Dugal, if new rules are not completed by April 15, the system could grind to a halt. “It would be ‘lights out’ again,” he said.

Earl Brechlin

Earl Brechlin

Editor at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander editor Earl Brechlin first discovered Mount Desert Island 35 years ago and never left. The author of seven guide and casual history books, he is a Registered Maine Guide and has served as president of the Maine and New England Press Associations. He and his wife live in Bar Harbor.
Earl Brechlin

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