New England tourism businesses seek relief from unfair and unrealistic hiring limits on H-2B visa temporary workers.
New England hosts more than 60 million annual visitors, primarily during a 12-week season. This seasonal tourism is a major driver of the New England economy, fueled by thousands of businesses that count on peak season to sustain them through the year. In the absence of a sufficient local workforce, these employers rely heavily on the H-2B Temporary Non-Agricultural Worker visa program to keep them in business.
The H-2B visa program is capped at 66,000 visas per year — not nearly enough to cover national demand. A permanent legislative fix has been elusive and was further complicated when the H-2B issue became entangled with comprehensive immigration reform in 2016. While the topic of foreign workers has been politicized by the left and right alike, the bottom line is that New England small business owners have had to cut back their service, hiring fewer Americans for permanent jobs in the process. In 2016, several Cape Cod businesses approached PSW for help advocating on their behalf in Washington.
We started by organizing more than 60 employers into a strong business coalition spanning all six New England states. In order to address the false narrative that the H-2B program was depressing wages and taking American jobs, PSW launched a website and social media presence for the coalition, partnered with a think tank to facilitate surveys and other economic analysis, and launched an aggressive media campaign that elicited national coverage in the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, PBS Newshour, and countless regional news outlets.
Along with the intense media coverage, we leveraged traditional grassroots and grasstops activation to reframe H-2B as a local and regional economic/small business issue, rather than a divisive referendum on immigration policy. We methodically cultivated support among New England Congressional delegation members, several of whom introduced bipartisan bills, and held Administration officials accountable during committee oversight hearings.
The outgrowth of that advocacy was that Senators from Maine and House members from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire successfully lobbied their colleagues to include the Returning Worker Exemption in FY 2019 House appropriations language, significantly increasing the likelihood of having meaningful cap relief by Memorial Day 2019.
New England's economy relies on the H-2B Temporary Non-Agricultural Worker visa program during tourist season.
Approached by local businesses, PSW worked with the media to transform the false narrative surrounding the H-2B program.