A bipartisan group of US senators asked Department of Labor Acting Secretary Julie Su to address delays affecting the processing of labor certifications for H-2B visa applications. According to the letter, these delays are extreme and exacerbate severe staffing challenges for seasonal businesses that rely on the temporary worker visas to meet demand for their products or services.

The H-2B visa program provides visas per year to seasonal nonfarm employers such as landscapers, fisheries and resorts.

Before employers can apply to the Department of Homeland Security for a visa, they must first receive approval for a labor certification from the Labor Department. This approval certifies that the employer has demonstrated that they cannot find US workers to fill these jobs.

“Unfortunately, in recent years, employers have faced extreme delays in DOL’s processing of applications for labor certifications,” the letter from the senators states. “Regulations require DOL to issue a first action (either a Notice of Acceptance or Notice of Deficiency) on every application within seven business days of receipt. However, this year DOL has taken more than 90 days to issue a first action on an alarming number of applications.”

For many employers to receive their workers on time, they must receive a first action from DOL on or before the middle of February. But this year, more than half of applications did not receive a first action until after the middle of February, according to the senators. For example, they stated many employers who first filed with DOL between Jan. 1 and Jan. 3 with a requested worker start date of April 1 did not receive a first action from DOL until as late as the third week of April, with labor certifications issued as late as the second week of May.

“These delays mean that many employers have not been able to even begin their visa application process with the Department of Homeland Security until after the date on which they needed their workers to start. This is entirely unacceptable,” the senators wrote. “We understand that demand for these visas has increased in recent years as seasonal industries face extensive workforce shortages. However, DOL must ensure it is able to meet this increased demand, as its current processes are causing substantial hardship to employers in our states. […] We stand ready to work with you to improve these processes and ensure that DOL is able to meet the needs of our seasonal employers.”

The letter was signed by 20 senators, including Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire), Angus King (I-Maine) and John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado).