Whatever your political affiliations, it’s clear things are pretty polarized in America these days, not least when it comes to the debate over immigration.
We’re not wading directly into politics here in this blogpost, but we did want to spotlight an important issue that’s affecting local businesses here in Ogunquit this year—enough so that our town was the focus of a recent National Public Radio piece. It’s actually not about immigration, but it’s become bound up in the back-and-forth over that issue.
As the NPR article by Maine Public Radio’s Fred Bever explains, a cap on temporary nonagricultural work visas for foreign laborers is poised to hit those in the hospitality trade (and other seasonal industries such as landscaping) hard. Some 66,000 of these visas are granted every year under the country’s H-2B program, and the limit for H-2B visas for the summer season was reached last month.
Previously, workers who’d previously held an H-2B visa were able to return to the U.S. for seasonal employment without counting against the H-2B cap. This exemption, however, expired last fall and was not renewed (as it has been in the past) by Congress.
This means many hotels are facing a labor shortfall with the busy summer season rapidly bearing down. As another news story on the issue from the Vineyard Gazette noted, many business owners aren’t just struggling with the general lack of labor: They’re also faced with the prospect of not having the skillful aid of those H-2B visa holders who’ve returned year after year to the same employers under the program’s returning-worker exemption.
As the NPR article explains, Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins is currently urging Congress to allow additional H-2B visas for returning workers. She told NPR, “I think it’s important to realize that even in this environment, where immigration issues have become so controversial, that these are essentially guest workers.”
Whether or not such efforts will be successful is unclear at the moment, given the tumult of a new administration and the fierce debate over immigration. It’s important to emphasize that H-2B workers are not immigrants. Furthermore, the program’s criteria mandate that employers demonstrate a lack of available U.S.-citizen laborers for the temporary jobs they need filled—and that such jobs aren’t harming U.S. workers in similar positions—before being given the necessary certification to hire H-2B visa holders.
Here in Ogunquit, many local businesses are paying close attention to developments in the H-2B issue as the busiest season in this nationally known summer resort town approaches.