In recent years, the faces of foreign workers on H2B visas have become a familiar part of the Vineyard’s seasonal employment mix. Indeed, their names are known and remembered by people who frequent particular restaurants or come back to certain inns.
That is no coincidence. Vineyard employers who have tapped into the program for a source of reliable seasonal workers often bring back the same individuals year after year.
One employer, the Harborside Inn in Edgartown, had planned to bring back twenty-one workers from Jamaica and four from Bulgaria, all of whom have worked at the inn for anywhere from three to ten years. They represent three-quarters of the inn’s workforce.
But the Harborside, along with a number of other Vineyard employers, faces a daunting problem this year.
In the past, an exemption in the visa program has allowed businesses to bring back their former H2B employees even as other parts of the program were threatened.
Now the exemption has expired. Congressional gridlock over comprehensive immigration reform is holding renewal hostage. Congressman William Delahunt, who represents the Vineyard, and other legislators are exploring whether the exemption can be renewed through the economic stimulus bill.
The H2B visa program consistently has proven itself a success in places where the demand for qualified seasonal help exceeds local supply, whether on the Cape and Islands in summer or western American ski resorts in winter. However immigration reform plays out, restoring the H2B exemption is a reasonable, much-needed move — on economic grounds if nothing else.