The Trump administration announced on May 6 that it plans to make 30,000 additional visas available for foreign workers who wish to work in the United States temporarily under the H-2B program for the 2019 fiscal year.
The plan would benefit oyster shucking companies, fisheries, loggers, and seasonal hotels, all of which use the visas to hire temporary workers for jobs they say Americans won’t do.
The additional visas will only be granted to only returning works who previously held an H-2B visa during the last three fiscal years, according to a joint statement by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Labor (DOL).
Officials say these workers have already been vetted and are trusted, are not likely to stay past their visa, and can have their visas approved more rapidly given their known history.
The strong economy has made it increasingly difficult for employers to find labor and the visas are meant to help businesses who would suffer irreparable harm without the extra workers. DHS Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan said the new measure is a temporary fix to the problem but requires a long-term legislative fix by Congress.
“The truth is that Congress is in the best position to establish the appropriate number of H-2B visas that American businesses should be allocated without harming U.S. workers. Therefore, Congress–not DHS–should be responsible for determining whether the annual numerical limitations for H-2B workers set by Congress need to be modified and by how much, and for setting parameters to ensure that enough workers are available to meet employers’ temporary needs throughout the year,” McAleenan said in the statement.
Currently, the number of seasonal work visa issued under the H-2B program is capped at 66,000 annually—with 33,000 visas issued for the first half of the fiscal year and 33,000 more for the second half of the year.
USCIS has received enough petitions to reach H-2B cap for FY 2017. https://go.usa.gov/xXTYU
But these numbers are quickly exhausted each year due to the high demand for workers.
The H-2B visa program has generated debate in Congress, with two bipartisan groups sending letters to Homeland Security, one urging an increase in the number of temporary visas and one expressing concern over a possible increase.
President Donald Trump previously said during his State of the Union speech this year that he wanted people “to come into our country in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally.”
“We have a moral duty to create an immigration system that protects the lives and jobs of our citizens. This includes our obligation to the millions of immigrants living here today, who followed the rules and respected our laws. Legal immigrants enrich our nation and strengthen our society in countless ways. I want people to come into our country in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally,” the president said.
The DHS and DOL rule is expected to be published on May 8.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.