Spending Bill Potentially Doubles H-2B Visas This Year

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer March 23, 2018
Spending Bill Potentially Doubles H-2B Visas This Year

​The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will once again be able to increase the number of seasonal foreign workers available for U.S. businesses to hire this year.

The provision allowing DHS—in consultation with the Department of Labor (DOL)—to issue H-2B visas above the 66,000 cap in fiscal year (FY) 2018 is a part of the $1.3 trillion funding bill signed by President Donald Trump on March 23.

The bill allows the agencies to determine if there is a need to increase the number of visas up to 129,547, the highest number of H-2B visas issued in a single year, which was back in 2007.

The language mirrors a provision enacted last year. DHS ended up only issuing an additional 15,000 visas last year, however, because the summer season was already nearly over by the time the agency made its determination. Employers eventually used 13,534 of the extra visas.

"It was too little, too late, way too late in the season," said Paul Mendelsohn, vice president of government relations for the National Association of Landscape Professionals, based in Herndon, Va. "We can only be optimistic that DHS will move more expeditiously this year."

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The H-2B visa program allows U.S. employers to hire foreign nationals during peak seasons, primarily in landscaping, hospitality, seafood processing and recreation jobs. Congress has set the H-2B visa cap at 66,000 per fiscal year, with 33,000 visas granted for workers who begin employment in the first half of the 12-month period (Oct. 1-March 31) and 33,000 visas for workers who begin employment in the second half (April 1-Sept. 30).

The demand for summer guestworkers this year has already far surpassed the government's allotment of visas. On Jan. 1—the first day seasonal businesses could file for the visas—employers sent the DOL about 4,500 applications covering 81,600 jobs for summer work, far exceeding the allotment available during that time.

"Without immediate action, more than 67 percent of seasonal positions will go unfulfilled, forcing businesses to turn away customers, lay off American workers whose jobs are supported by H-2B workers, and in some cases shut down their operations entirely," said the H-2B Workforce Coalition, representing seasonal employers, in a statement.

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