A large allotment of H-2B work visas was announced by Rep. Bill Keating’s office last Thursday, easing some of the uncertainty among Island business owners about the summer work force, especially for returning workers.

A total of 35,000 H-2B visas will be allocated for the second half of this year, the announcement said, a sharp increase from the 20,000 released the same time last year. The H-2B visa program allows non-agricultural workers to work in the U.S.

No information was available from Mr. Keating’s office about how many of the visas will be granted to Island seasonal workers.

But speaking to the Gazette by phone, he called the allotment significant.

“I think you’d have to go past the last six years before you see anything approaching that,” the congressman said.

The 35,000 visa allotment is split into two categories, with 23,500 visas available for returning workers, and the remaining 11,500 exempt from the returning worker requirement but reserved for workers from Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

Mr. Keating said the returning worker visas are particularly important for the Island, where many businesses see workers return year after year year.

“You can’t just spend the first two, three weeks training,” he said.

He concluded:

“This is really what we pushed for. This is a big leap forward beyond what I think people have anticipated.”

— Aidan Pollard