The House Small Business Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Tax and Capital Access, under the chairmanship of Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC), held a hearing today examining the H-2B visa program and how recent regulatory changes will affect small tourism businesses.
The Subcommittee examined the hurdles that small firms are facing to find seasonal workers. The H-2B Visa program enables small companies to hire foreign guest workers to fill low-skilled, non-agricultural temporary jobs during peak seasons. This year, employers face additional hurdles because of an application backlog created by a one-month suspension of the program by the Department of Labor and the Department of Homeland Security. Also, an April 24 decision to revise the wage methodology has created new costs for small firms just as the summer tourism season begins.
"Small businesses in the tourism industry must have the ability to quickly ramp up employment for their peak seasons," said Chairman Rice. "Many small, seasonal employers supplement their seasonal staff with guest workers through the H-2B visa program because there simply aren't enough American workers available and interested in filling those jobs. The temporary suspension of the program is a real problem for employers that have been caught in the H-2B visa processing backlog. Moreover, for the thousands of businesses that use the program, the recent change to the prevailing wage rate rule is adding to the uncertainty. Because there was no advance notice, small businesses are facing unforeseen cost increases. Changing the rules on businesses after their seasonal contracts and rates are set is unfair and a poor choice in a slow economic recovery."
Brad Dean, President & CEO, Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, Myrtle Beach, SC, said, "A guest worker program is not a luxury. Rather, it is a business necessity. Specifically, the H-2B Visa program is necessary for a seasonal tourism destination like Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Without this program, we would struggle. With the program, we enjoy a level playing field and our businesses are given a fair chance to succeed."
Sarah M. Diment, Owner, The Beachmere Inn, Ogunquit, ME, testifying on behalf of the American Hotel and Lodging Association, said, "The H-2B program is a supplement to our year-round American workforce, allowing our business to operate at full capacity so that we can be as successful as we can be, rolling revenue and benefits back into the workforce and local economy."
Jane Nichols Bishop, President, Peak Season Workforce, Mashpee, MA, said, "As you know, small businesses are the backbone of the U.S. economy. Many in popular tourism destinations are dependent on international workers with H-2B visas to have successful seasons. They cannot thrive without adequate staff or with the uncertainty of when staff will become available. Businesses cannot show a successful bottom line if they are hobbled by bureaucratic decision-making in Washington that imposes unreasonable and uncompetitive wage rates."