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H2B Returning Worker Deadline Looming
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Despite a looming September 30, 2007, H-2B returning worker deadline, Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) today said she will not stop her fight to extend a crucial returning guest worker exemption from her Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act that protects small and seasonal businesses from a devastating cut to their workforce. Senator Mikulski joined Senator John Warner (R-Va.) in March 2007 to introduce a stand alone bill to extend the provision, and also included it as an amendment to the comprehensive immigration packages considered by the Senate this spring. Unfortunately, no bill will receive a vote before the provision’s expiration.

“The H2B expiration will not stop my fight for the small businesses at risk without this critical provision. I promised small businesses they could count on me to keep fighting – and my promises made are promises kept,” said Senator Mikulski. “Without these seasonal workers, many businesses would not survive – forced to limit services, lay off permanent U.S. workers or, worse yet, close their doors.”

The Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act, signed into law by President Bush in May 2005, made significant changes to the federal H2B (non-skilled seasonal worker) visa program. Among the changes, it exempted returning seasonal workers from counting against the national cap of 66,000 people, created new anti-fraud provisions, and ensured a fair allocation of H2B visas among spring and summer employees. This exemption, however, was not made permanent in the 2005 bill and has to be extended each year until Senator Mikulski’s proposal to make it permanent is passed into law. Last year, a last-minute, one-year extension was included as part of the 2007 Department of Defense authorization bill, but it expires on September 30, 2007.

The cap exemption provides significant relief to seasonal businesses, such as Maryland and Virginia’s seafood and cannery industries, which often hire the same dependable workers every year. Senators Mikulski and Warner have built a broad coalition of Senators in support of the cap exemption, including Senators Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), Susan M. Collins (R-Maine) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.).

In the words of Senator Mikulski, “I will continue doing everything I can to make sure small businesses do not suffer without this exemption. I will use every option available to move this as a stand alone bill or to attach it to another piece of legislation,” she added, “I have been fighting for years to help good guy businesses and workers wade through the unfair procedures that were part of the H2B visa process.”

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