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Mikulski Pulls Off another H2B Miracle
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As Chairwoman of the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee Senator Barbara A. Mikulski’s (D-Md.) successfully added language to the fiscal year 2008 CJS spending bill to extend a critical provision of her Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act that expired on September 30 and protects small and seasonal businesses – including Maryland’s seafood and cannery industries – from devastating cuts to their workforce. The bill passed the Senate tonight with a vote of 75-19.

In the words of Senator Mikulski, “Who says my promises made are not promises kept? I told small businesses they could count on me to keep fighting, and I meant it,” she also added, “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 expired on September 30, 2007.

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 was brought up for a final vote before the provision’s expiration. Today’s provision is a one-year extension to allow companies to continue to get the seasonal workers they depend on, and will expire on September 30, 2008.

Senator Mikulski pledged to continue to work with Senate leaders to make the provision permanent as part of comprehensive immigration legislation. A permanent solution is needed to address this annual problem or else seasonal businesses – like the seafood industry in Maryland – will surely suffer.

“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. I will not give up until my fix is permanent,” said Senator Mikulski. In the next step of the legislative process, the House and Senate will meet in Conference Committee to work out the differences between the two versions of the bill. The Conference report will then be voted on by both Houses of Congress. Once passed by the House and Senate, the spending bill will go to the President for his signature.


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