The State Executive Authority for Seasonal Occupations Needing Additional Labor (SEASONAL) Act (S. 2705) would enable governors experiencing labor shortages in their states to petition the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Labor (DOL) for supplemental H-2B nonimmigrant visas. The bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senator John Thune (R-South Dakota) on July 27, 2023. The bill is cosponsored by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), Pete Ricketts (R-Nebraska), and John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado).
The SEASONAL Act would:
I. Allow governors to request the issuance of additional H-2B visas to federal authorities if the following four requirements are met:
1. The number of H-2B visa applications from all qualifying employers in the state exceeds the numerical limitation for each fiscal year;
2. The state’s unemployment rate is at or below 3.5% in at least 9 of the 12 most recent monthly reports issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
3. Petitioning governors must certify that there is a persistent, unmet need for labor in their states; and
4. Governors must demonstrate the supplemental H-2B visas will not displace domestic workers or negatively affect average wages in the state.
II. Allow state legislatures to impose numerical, geographical, and occupational limits on the governors’ authority to request supplemental H-2B visas.
III. Require DHS and DOL to submit annual reports to Congress regarding the number, allocation, and effects of the supplemental H-2B visas.
The H-2B visa program – which allows foreign nationals to work in temporary nonagricultural jobs in the U.S. – is capped by Congress at 66,000 visas per year. However, Congress has regularly afforded the Department of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Department of Labor, the authority to release additional visas to help employers meet the demand for seasonal workers. While providing DHS with this discretion has helped address labor shortages in a number of sectors that rely on seasonal nonagricultural workers, it has still proven to be insufficient, with demand for workers regularly outstripping the supply of H-2B visas.
Given these shortcomings, the SEASONAL Act may help fill worker shortfalls in certain states by allowing governors to request supplemental H-2B visas, broadly (statewide across multiple sectors) or narrowly (limited to specific labor categories or to specific economic regions), consistent with specific labor needs of the state, under criteria and limits imposed by state legislatures.
Labor shortages in the United States are omnipresent. The labor needs, however, vary by state and even within regions of a particular state. The SEASONAL Act represents a smart alternative to tackle the persistent labor deficits across the United States, empowering state governors and legislatures to identify where these needs exist and permit the recruitment of additional temporary workers to help the state achieve optimal performance.