The U.S. government has authorized more visas for foreign seasonal workers desperately needed by summer tourism businesses in Maine and elsewhere.

Merlene Warren of Montego Bay, Jamaica, cleans a guest room at the Meadowmere Resort in Ogunquit in 2013. Warren was working temporarily in the U.S. with an H-2B visa. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The Department of Homeland Security this week released 35,000 more H-2B visas, work documents that allow people to work in the United States temporarily.

Maine hotels and restaurants, especially in busy coastal communities, rely on those workers to supplement the local workforce. Demand for H-2B visas has been intense in recent years amid a fiercely competitive labor market.

There is a legal cap of 66,000 visas annually, distributed evenly between two halves of the calendar year. Demand for the program is so intense that for the past five years, Congress has approved lifting that cap. The agency regularly increases the number of available visas after pressure from members of Congress, including Maine’s delegation.

“The release of these additional visas come at an important time, with Maine’s hospitality businesses preparing for the start of the busy summer season,” said Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins in a joint news release. “Although these additional visas will help provide relief to many Maine small businesses, there is still an overwhelming need given the current tight labor market and record low unemployment.”

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