US Congressman Bill Keating, who represents the 9th Congressional District that includes Cape Cod, attended a full hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security Wednesday morning, June 7.
The hearing included testimony from Secretary John Kelly on the Department of Homeland Security’s re-authorization and Fiscal Year 2018 budget proposal, a statement from Rep. Keating’s office said.
“During an exchange with Rep. Keating, who asked about the stalled H-2B [seasonal worker visa] program, Sec. Kelly took the opposite interpretation of the very language and intent of the H-2B provision included in the FY
The May 2017 spending bill included a provision that explicitly gives the secretary authority to increase the number of H-2B visas from 66,000 to approximately 129,000, the statement said.
When asked by Rep. Keating about lifting the 66,000 cap for returning workers, Sec. Kelly responded that his interpretation of the H-2B provision was that the cap was not to be raised.
“What I took from that was the sense of the Congress was not to expand it, because if it was that important, the Congress would have authorized 129,000,” Sec. Kelly said, according to the statement.
“The H-2B provision in the spending bill was clear,” Rep. Keating said. “It is concerning that Sec. Kelly and the department could interpret it to mean that Congress did not want to increase the number of H-2B workers when the provision specifically gave him the authority to do just that.”
“This is not a trivial issue,” he continued. “This is a matter of many seasonal, small businesses being able to open in time for their high season. The revenues made now are what keep these businesses afloat.”
Rep. Keating said he has seen first-hand the benefits of exempting returning workers from the H-2B visa cap.
“Congress has exempted returning workers in four out of the past 11 years,” he said. “The 129,000 figure represents the highest number of visas issued during the four years in which returning workers were exempt from the cap.”
Rep. Keating said the state hit the visa cap in March, “leaving employers without staff and causing businesses to open short-handed, if at all.”
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