No more seasonal worker visas available, but may still be insufficient
The Department of Homeland Security said an additional 22,000 H-2B visas will be available nationwide for the coming season. It is not known how many Maine will receive.
KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine – The Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday it will provide an additional 22,000 H-2B visas nationwide to help small businesses.
H2-B visas are granted to foreign seasonal workers.
According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the H-2B program “allows American employers or agents who meet specific regulatory requirements to bring foreign nationals to the United States for temporary employment. non-agricultural ”.
In Maine, many hospitality and tourism businesses say these visas are critical to their success, and right now there just aren’t enough of them.
Such an enterprise is the Kennebunkport Resort (KRC) collection, which operates six restaurants and 10 resorts / inns in the Kennebunkport area, including the Kennebunkport Inn and The Cottages at Cabot Cove.
KRC’s director of human resources, Ann-Marie Mahoney, said the company hires hundreds of seasonal workers every summer.
“We have about 100 employees year round. In the summer it reaches about 450 to 500 employees.”
Mahoney said just over 100 of those seasonal workers are people from outside the United States, who work on H-2B visas. This includes seasonal Ricardo Irving.
Irving is originally from Jamaica and worked six summers for KRC. It’s a job he said he really enjoyed.
“I’m of the opinion that once you enjoy what you do, you never work a day in your life,” Irving said.
To work in Kennebunkport during the summers, Irving sacrifices time away from his family. However, he said his compensation made it a worthy sacrifice.
“I am a father and a husband, so I have responsibilities, and it is even more important for me to save [money]. “
According to Hospitality Maine, the state is typically issued between 2,000 and 2,500 H-2B visas. While the recent increase in Department of Homeland Security visas is a welcome bonus for businesses, Greg Dugal, director of government affairs for Maine Hospitality, said it was still only a fraction of what they paid for. needed.
Estimating how many H-2B visas the state could receive, Dugal said: “We’re probably somewhere in the 1,200 range, so about half of what we would normally like to have.”
H-2B worker visas are distributed by lottery and, according to Dugal, are essential extra charge to the summer workforce.
“It’s not like someone is taking anyone’s job by any stretch of the imagination. There are just more jobs than people in Maine,” Dugal said.
Mahoney, of KRC, said she would like to hire locally, but there aren’t enough locals looking for these seasonal positions.
“We try to recruit locally as much as possible,” said Mahoney. “We go to job fairs, we go to universities, we try to recruit interns in the kitchen. There are simply not enough people.
Additionally, Mahoney said the hurdles businesses face in getting H-2B season visa workers are such that no business would go through the process if hiring locals was an option.
“In order to bring in the visa workers, there is a really substantial expense,” Mahoney said. “There is no company anywhere that would pay this expense if it could hire local workers.”
The increase in H-2B visas follows a push led by Senators Collins and King, as well as Congresswoman Pingree.
The additional 22,000 visas, distributed nationally, will complete the previous offer of 33,000 H-2B visas.
It is still unclear how many additional visas Maine will receive.
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