Press Releases

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) issued the following statement in response to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Labor (DOL) announcement making available an additional 35,000 H-2B temporary nonagricultural worker visas for fiscal year (FY) 2022. These visas will be set aside for U.S. employers seeking to employ additional workers between April 1, 2022 and September 30, 2022:

“Last week I met with Secretary of Homeland Security Mayorkas and emphasized the need for the Biden administration to make additional H-2B visas available so that Virginia’s seafood businesses can meet their labor needs. Every year, my office hears from seafood businesses about how difficult it is to find and hire workers in an industry with incredibly demanding but temporary jobs like processing crabs and shucking oysters. These businesses – often small and family-owned – live in a constant state of worry, unsure whether they’ll have to cancel contracts because they can’t get the workers that they need. I thank the Biden administration for making these additional visas available, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to reform the H-2B visa program to ensure our processors have the labor certainty they need for their businesses to grow and thrive.”

The H-2B Temporary Non-Agricultural Visa Program allows U.S. employers to hire seasonal, non-immigrant workers during peak seasons to supplement the existing American workforce. In order to be eligible for the program, employers are required to declare that there are not enough U.S. workers available to do the temporary work, as is the case with the seafood industry, which relies on H-2B workers for tough jobs such as shucking oysters and processing crabs.

Sen. Warner has long advocated for the expansion of H-2B visas in order to ensure that seafood processors in Virginia have the seasonal workforce they need. Last year, Sen. Warner, joined by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Ben Cardin, and Chris Van Hollen (both D-MD), urged the Biden administration to make available the maximum number of congressionally-authorized H-2B visas to support local seafood businesses.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined U.S. Sens. Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Angus King (I-ME) in urging the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to work with the Department of Labor (DOL) to quickly make available an additional 44,716 H-2B visas, the maximum number of Congressionally-authorized visas in order to ensure that seafood processors and other businesses in Virginia have the workforce they need ahead of the seasonal start date on April 1.

“American businesses from industries such as tourism and hospitality, landscaping, fairs and carnivals, seafood processing, golf courses, reforestation, contractors and horse racing depend on seasonal employment to meet the demand across many industries,” the senators wrote. “Without meaningful H-2B cap relief, many seasonal businesses will be forced to scale back operations, cancel or default on contracts, lay off full-time U.S. workers and, in some cases, close operations completely. By taking action to release and process additional H-2B visas, seasonal businesses and U.S. workers across the country will avoid these harmful consequences and instead help contribute to the American economy.”

“Given the growing demand for H-2B workers as our economy continues to reopen and employers continue to struggle with staffing shortages, we urge DHS to promptly make available all 64,716 additional H-2B visas authorized under law and urge DOL to allow employers to utilize emergency procedures for their applications to expedite processing times,” they continued. “These vital American businesses depend on access to a sufficient number of seasonal H-2B workers on April 1.”

The H-2B Temporary Non-Agricultural Visa Program allows U.S. employers to hire seasonal, non-immigrant workers during peak seasons to supplement the existing American workforce. In order to be eligible for the program, employers are required to declare that there are not enough U.S. workers available to do the temporary work, as is the case with the seafood industry, which relies on H-2B workers for tough jobs such as shucking oysters and processing crabs. 

Along with Sens. Warner, Kaine, Rounds, and King the letter was signed by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chris Coons (D-DE), Jim Risch (R-ID), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Rob Portman (R-OH), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Rev. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Tom Carper (D-DE), John Cornyn (R-TX), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Mike Crapo (R-ID), John Thune (R-SD), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Susan Collins (R-ME), Pat Toomey (R-PA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Rand Paul (R-KY), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), John Barasso (R-WY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Tim Scott (R-SC).    

Sens. Warner and Kaine have long advocated for the seafood processing industry – a community largely made up of rural, family-owned operations. Last year, the Senators urged the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to release additional H-2B visas needed to support local seafood businesses in Virginia and Maryland. In December 2021, Sen. Warner applauded the release of an additional 20,000 H-2B visas for seasonal workers.

Sens. Warner and Kaine are committed to providing long-term relief for seasonal seafood processors through reform of the H-2B program. The release of these additional visas is an important step in ensuring that seafood processors in Virginia are able to meet their staffing needs in the upcoming season.

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Secretary Mayorkas and Secretary Walsh:

We write on behalf of seasonal businesses in our states to urge you to provide expeditious H-2B cap relief to address the seasonal labor shortages caused by the inadequate H-2B visa cap. Specifically, we urge that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in consultation with the Department of Labor (DOL), utilize the authority provided by Congress to release the maximum allowable number of additional H-2B visas for Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22).  We further request that your agencies take steps to process pending H-2B applications in advance of the start of the April 1 hiring period for the second half of FY22, including by instituting emergency procedures previously used by DOL to address labor certification processing delays. 

American businesses from industries such as tourism and hospitality, landscaping, fairs and carnivals, seafood processing, golf courses, reforestation, contractors and horse racing depend on seasonal employment to meet the demand across many industries. Without meaningful H-2B cap relief, many seasonal businesses will be forced to scale back operations, cancel or default on contracts, lay off full-time U.S. workers and, in some cases, close operations completely. By taking action to release and process additional H-2B visas, seasonal businesses and U.S. workers across the country will avoid these harmful consequences and instead help contribute to the American economy.

As Congress has allowed in each of the past five fiscal years, the current FY22 Continuing Resolution continues to provide the Department of Homeland Security the authority to lift the existing annual 66,000 H-2B visa cap.  In the past year, DHS has provided supplemental cap relief in the amounts of 22,000 in May 2021 and 20,000 in January 2022. While these supplemental visas helped some employers, they were not sufficient to satisfy the total need for H-2B workers. Additionally, the release of these visas did not occur until well into many businesses’ peak seasons, which caused significant harm to these employers.

We urge you to release all allowable additional visas as soon as possible to make certain workers can begin working on April 1, 2022, the start date for the second half of FY22. According to your Departments’ January 28, 2022 temporary final rule titled “Exercise of Time-Limited Authority to Increase the Fiscal Year 2022 Numerical Limitation for the H-2B Temporary Nonagricultural Worker Program and Portability Flexibility for H-2B Workers Seeking To Change Employers,” DHS is authorized to release a total of 64,716 additional visas this fiscal year.

As you know, the first half H-2B visa cap for FY22 was reached on September 30, 2021, almost two months earlier than previous years. The urgency and high level of need for nonagricultural worker visas prompted your agencies to announce, for the first time ever, the release of an additional 20,000 H-2B visas in the first half of the fiscal year. This leaves tens of thousands of additionally authorized visas available for the remainder of FY22. 

As a result, we encourage you to release and process the authorized 44,716 additional visas in a manner that will make certain all H-2B workers can begin work on the April 1, 2022 start date for the second half of FY22. These additional visas are imperative, as evidenced by the Office of Foreign Labor Certification announcement that between January 1-3, 2022, the Foreign Labor Application Gateway System for the peak filing season received 7,875 applications from employers for more than 136,555 worker positions with an April 1, 2022 or later work start date. This is more than quadruple the number of H-2B visas currently available for the second half of the fiscal year.

In a December 20, 2021 press release, DHS outlined the agency’s intention to “implement policies that will make the H-2B program even more responsive to the needs of our economy.” It is clear from the number of applications received during the filing period for the second half of FY22 that the release of the remaining H-2B worker visas would be responsive to the needs of our economy.

We are also concerned that the unprecedented demand for the program has led to delays in processing labor certifications at DOL that, without emergency procedures, will prevent employers from completing the H-2B application process before the April 1, 2022 start date for the second half of FY22. In the second half of FY21, employers assigned to the final review group did not receive a first action from DOL until late February and a labor certification until March. This year, DOL is already running a week behind compared to last year, with a larger group of total applications to process. At this rate, it appears DOL may not finish processing labor certifications for the final review group until late March, making it impossible for employers to complete the full H-2B process before April 1. In 2016, due to similar processing delays, DOL instituted emergency procedures to allow employers to begin U.S. worker recruitment prior to receiving their first actions from DOL. We request that DOL again institute these emergency procedures, which will allow employers to submit their recruitment reports immediately upon receiving a Notice of Acceptance from DOL, saving two weeks.

Given the growing demand for H-2B workers as our economy continues to reopen and employers continue to struggle with staffing shortages, we urge DHS to promptly make available all 64,716 additional H-2B visas authorized under law and urge DOL to allow employers to utilize emergency procedures for their applications to expedite processing times. These vital American businesses depend on access to a sufficient number of seasonal H-2B workers on April 1. We thank you in advance for your attention to this pressing matter.

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) along with Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-MD) today applauded an announcement by the Biden administration that it will release an additional 22,000 H-2B temporary non-agricultural worker visas, a move that will benefit the seafood processing industries in Virginia and Maryland. The senators had previously called on the administration to make available the maximum number of congressionally-authorized H-2B visas in order to ensure that seafood processors in Virginia and Maryland have the seasonal workforce they need. Following today’s announcement, the senators released the following statement:

“As the harvest season begins on the Northern Neck and the Eastern Shore, we are pleased that seafood processors will be able to hire additional seasonal workers to keep their operations up and running. These businesses – most of them small and family-owned – are essential to the coastal economies in Virginia and Maryland, and so we appreciate that the administration listened to our requests and released these additional visas, ensuring that they will have the workforce they need as the processing season kicks up.”  

The H-2B Temporary Non-Agricultural Visa Program allows U.S. employers to hire seasonal, non-immigrant workers during peak seasons to supplement the existing American workforce. In order to be eligible for the program, employers are required to declare that there are not enough U.S. workers available to do the temporary work, as is the case with the seafood industry, which relies on H-2B workers for tough jobs such as shucking oysters and processing crabs.  

Sens. Warner, Kaine, Cardin, and Van Hollen have long advocated for the seafood processing industry – a community largely made up of rural, family-owned operations.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) and Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-MD) today urged the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to quickly make available the maximum number of Congressionally-authorized H-2B visas in order to ensure that seafood processors in Virginia and Maryland have the seasonal workforce they need ahead of the seasonal start date on April 1. 

“In the rural and remote coastal regions in our states, even in a time of high unemployment, seafood processors have struggled to find domestic workers,”wrote the Senators in a letter to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. “Seafood processors are designated as part of the ‘essential, critical infrastructure’ during the pandemic and yet many have been unable to operate at full capacity due to lack of workers. Disruptions to the food supply chain will harm American consumers, the seafood industry, and the U.S. economy. Withholding H-2B visas for seasonal seafood processors will only exacerbate this matter.” 

“On February 24, 2021, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it had received enough petitions to meet the H-2B cap for the second half of FY 2021,” they continued. “Unfortunately, many small, family-owned businesses in our states were unable to obtain H-2B visas before the cap was met last week. Without these additional visas, our states’ treasured seafood industries, which are crucial to the economies of the Northern Neck and Eastern Shore, will be forced to scale back operations, default on contracts, lay off full-time American workers or, in some cases, close operations completely.”

The H-2B Temporary Non-Agricultural Visa Program allows U.S. employers to hire seasonal, non-immigrant workers during peak seasons to supplement the existing American workforce. In order to be eligible for the program, employers are required to declare that there are not enough U.S. workers available to do the temporary work, as is the case with the seafood industry, which relies on H-2B workers for tough jobs such as shucking oysters and processing crabs.  

In their letter, the Senators also raised concern with reports that USCIS decided to use ‘receipt by’ instead of ‘mailed by’ dates to reject otherwise timely applications for nonimmigrant workers. Noting mail delays due to inclement weather on the East Coast, they asked the DHS Secretary to reconsider this decision and allow these applications to proceed.

Sen. Warner, Kaine, Cardin, and Van Hollen have long advocated for the seafood processing industry – a community largely made up of rural, family-owned operations. Last year, the Senators urged the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to release additional H-2B visas needed to support local seafood businesses in Virginia and states like Alaska, Maryland, and North Carolina. 

A copy of the letter is available here and below.

The Honorable Alejandro Mayorkas

Secretary

U.S. Department of Homeland Security                                             

Washington, DC 20528

Dear Secretary Mayorkas:

We are writing on behalf of Virginia and Maryland seafood processors who depend on H-2B temporary, seasonal workers to operate their businesses.  In the rural and remote coastal regions in our states, even in a time of high unemployment, seafood processors have struggled to find domestic workers.  Seafood processors are designated as part of the “essential, critical infrastructure” during the pandemic and yet many have been unable to operate at full capacity due to lack of workers. Disruptions to the food supply chain will harm American consumers, the seafood industry, and the U.S. economy. Withholding H-2B visas for seasonal seafood processors will only exacerbate this matter. 

The Fiscal Year 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act provides the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with the authority to lift the existing statutory cap of 66,000 annual H-2B visas.  We urge DHS to promptly make available the maximum number of additional Congressionally-authorized H-2B visas while balancing safety to meet the labor needs of seafood processors in our states.

On February 24, 2021, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it had received enough petitions to meet the H-2B cap for the second half of FY 2021.  February 12, 2021 was the final receipt date for new cap-subject H-2B worker petitions requesting an employment start date before October 1, 2021. 

Unfortunately, many small, family-owned businesses in our states were unable to obtain H-2B visas before the cap was met last week.  Without these additional visas, our states’ treasured seafood industries, which are crucial to the economies of the Northern Neck and Eastern Shore, will be forced to scale back operations, default on contracts, lay off full-time American workers or, in some cases, close operations completely. 

Despite good faith efforts to find local seasonal workers, our seafood industries rely on H-2B workers for tough jobs such as shucking oysters and processing crabs.  Seafood processors have used the seasonal H-2B visa program to supplement their U.S. workforce for decades and have not grown significantly in the numerical requests for visas over time. The April 1 seasonal start date is just weeks away and the seafood processors in our will not be able to operate without their seasonal workforce.

Additionally, we have also received reports that USCIS has decided to use ‘receipt by’  instead of ‘mailed by’ dates to reject otherwise timely applications. A number of our constituents mailed their applications before the deadline but due to inclement weather on the East Coast their applications were delivered after the cap was met. For example, USCIS Forms I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Workers overnighted on February 11, 2021 were not delivered until several days later due to winter storms. Among the employers affected are several seafood companies on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and the Northern Neck of Virginia. Employers elsewhere in the country using the same shipping methods had their applications receipted before the cap simply due to their geographic location. We ask that you reconsider these decisions and allow these applications to proceed.

We thank you in advance for your prompt attention to this matter; the viability of many seasonal businesses in our states depend on the H-2B program.

Sincerely,

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