Reporter Hannah LaClaire’s May 2 article, “As summer nears, most Maine tourism businesses are understaffed,” outlined the uphill battle Maine businesses face as the busy tourist season approaches with “70% of businesses understaffed.” Driving through any town in Maine, one is struck by the number of “Help Wanted” signs for many service and hospitality businesses. A solution, however, is close at hand, and Maine’s congressional delegation is working to pass it.

Some Maine businesses have come to rely on the H-2B seasonal worker program to try to alleviate the need to fill vital roles during the busy tourist season. However, as the article points out, the paperwork, regulations and delays, not to mention a congressional quota, mean some employers never get the help they need. There is another option that could alleviate this problem more quickly and cost-effectively. Currently, in Maine and elsewhere, refugee shelters are full of folks awaiting review of their asylum applications. Many want to move out of the overburdened shelters, and would do so if they had work permits in hand.

Sen. Susan Collins has filed a bipartisan bill, the Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act, which Sen. Angus King has also signed on to, that would reduce the wait time for employment authorization documents for asylum seekers from six months to 30 days. Rep. Chellie Pingree has introduced a similar bill in the House.

It is time for Congress to streamline these existing paths to employment to help Maine businesses, cities and towns who are eager to fill those open positions.

Matthew J. Maiona
immigration attorney & adjunct professor of business immigration law, Suffolk University Law School

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