Cape businesses may have to find workers in new ways

John Basile

Without extension of an amendment allowing more foreign workers to enter the country, Cape Cod employers who hire seasonal workers may have to be more creative in finding the people they need.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has received a sufficient number of petitions to reach the congressionally mandated H-2B cap for the second half of fiscal 2008.

Jan. 2 was the "final receipt date" for new H-2B worker petitions requesting employment start dates prior to Oct. 1. The cutoff was reached much earlier than many Cape business owners expected. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration stops accepting applications when it receives enough to cover the limit of 33,000 workers for the second half of the year.

Each summer, about 5,000 temporary foreign workers come to Cape Cod.

Traditionally, Cape Cod businesses that open in the spring or early summer send in their H2B visa applications well before the limit is reached.

“Seasonal businesses that open in April or May have probably already submitted their applications,” said Mark Forest an aide to U.S. Rep William Delahunt, D-Quincy. “We were very busy in November and December helping those people with their applications.”

Businesses that open later in the season and have not submitted applications, or those who simply have not completed the necessary paperwork, will be facing a real problem.

Forest said those businesses may want to look into alternative visa programs, such as the J1 cultural exchange visa, which has no cap. Forest said “sharing” workers who have H2B visas with ski resorts or Florida businesses that have their busy season in the winter is another option.

Forest said when Congress reconvenes later this month, Delahunt will continue to push for an extension of an amendment that allowed workers who entered the United States on H2B visas in the last three years to return without counting against the cap.

The extension has been bogged down in Congress by members of both parties who will not support it without comprehensive immigration reform.

“As long as immigration is a radioactive issue in Washington, some people will have to think of other options,” Forest said.