RELEASE:

MISS. SENATORS SAY H-2B VISA PROCESS NEEDS MORE CERTAINTY

Cochran, Wicker Pressured Administration to Restart Program Critical to Miss. Businesses Dependent on Temporary Nonimmigrant Labor

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) today said industries in Mississippi that rely on temporary nonimmigrant workers have been ill-served by the Obama administration’s nearly two-week suspension of a critical visa program.

Cochran and Wicker on Tuesday agreed with action taken by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) late Monday to resume the H-2B temporary foreign worker visa program, which had been abruptly stopped on March 5. Nevertheless, the Mississippi Senators remained critical of the administration’s handling of the H-2B program. They were part of a bipartisan group of 23 Senators that last week pressured the DOL and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to restart the program, citing the hardships the interruption was already causing across the nation.

“Shrimpers, foresters, and other seasonal industries across Mississippi rely on the H-2B program to supplement their permanent workforce as they fight to protect American jobs by keeping their businesses open year-round,” Cochran said. “The irresponsible decision to stop the H-2B program sowed hardship and uncertainty, two things that make running a business more difficult. The administration must keep this program on an even keel.”

“The Labor Department has failed to fulfill its responsibilities, leaving many businesses and industries in limbo,” Wicker said. “Job creators need regulatory certainty to conduct business and prepare for current and future workforce needs. This particular worker visa program is imperative to our economy. The agency should resume the program without delay.”

Cochran and Wicker last week signed letters to Labor Secretary Tom Perez and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson that demanded a reversal of the decision to stop accepting or processing H-2B applications. The program was halted on March 5 after a U.S. District Court in Florida issued a March 4 decision in Perez v Perez that determined that the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service, not DOL, has sole rulemaking authority over the H-2B program.

The Perez decision “did not require that DOL shut the H-2B program down,” said the letters initiated by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.). “Our constituents need a government on their side. Every time there is a bureaucratic rule change or legal interpretation that harms their ability to operate their business, they lose another piece of their livelihood.”

The letters asked DHS, in collaboration with DOL, issue an immediate emergency rule that will result in the resumption of H-2B processing.

On March 17, DOL informed the lawmakers that it had filed an unopposed motion to stay the March 4 order and judgement in Perez v Perez, which will permit the resumption of the H-2B application process. The DOL also intends to work with DHS to issue and promulgate a joint Interim Final Rule by April 30 to address the court decision.

The H-2B program, administered by DOL and DHS, permits employers anticipating a labor shortage to bring nonimmigrant workers to the United States to fill temporary nonagricultural jobs in seafood processing, construction, forestry, hospitality, construction, and many other industries.

Economists estimate that for each H-2B worker, 4.64 American jobs are created and/or sustained. The H-2B Workforce Coalition estimates about 2,300 employers and 33,000 H-2B workers (representing all visas allocated for the second half of 2015) will be harmed as a result of the DOL and DHS program shutdown.

3/17/15