The omnibus spending bill passed by Congress late last week and signed into law by President Donald Trump includes a provision allowing the administration to nearly double the number of H-2B visas available for US employers to hire temporary foreign workers this year to 129,547, Vox reported on Friday:
Last year, Congress allowed the Department of Homeland Security to issue more H-2B visas in 2017, as long as it didn’t surpass the highest number of H-2B visas ever issued in a year,which was 129,547 in 2007 (back then, returning H-2B workers weren’t counted in the visa cap). The agency ended up issuing an extra 15,000 in July last year, which was a low figure because the summer season was already halfway done. Congress made the same exception for the department this year. …
Competition for the visas has been fierce this year. The Department of Labor says it is swamped with applications from businesses that want to hire guest workers for the summer. By January 1, the department had received requests to hire 81,008 H-2B workers for the summer season — far beyond the 33,000 originally allowed. In February, a coalition of businesses that hire H-2B workers lobbied Congress to lift the cap again. It appears Congress heard them.
The expansion of the program comes as American companies in seasonal industries like hospitality are being pressed to compete more aggressively for temporary workers in the coming spring and summer season. While these employees don’t normally have the leverage to negotiate for higher pay, they are taking advantage of the tight labor market to demand more flexibility and control over their schedules. Last summer, some employers complained that Trump’s restrictive immigration policies were contributing to labor shortages and costing them business. The expansion of the H-2B program should help alleviate some of this pressure, but the new cap still falls well short of the number of applications that come in each year.
This shortfall predates the Trump administration by many years, as the previous cap of 66,000 has not been adjusted since the 1990s. While the Trump administration has cracked down on the issuing of H-1B visas to highly skilled workers in fields like technology, in response to what it sees as abusive and fraudulent practices by employers of H-1B holders, it has taken a less aggressive approach to H-2B visas, which several of Trump’s own hotel and resort businesses use. Critics of the H-2B program on both the right and the left, however, say it does not go far enough in requiring employers to fill seasonal roles with US citizens first.
One hot-button immigration-related issue not addressed in the spending bill is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program instituted by former President Barack Obama in a 2012 executive order and recently rescinded by Trump. The DACA program, which enjoys extensive support among the public and employers, protects undocumented immigrants who were brought into the US as children. Both Democrats and Republicans say they want to legislate a permanent solution for the over 1 million “dreamers” who were eligible for DACA, but Congress has so far been unable to agree a compromise that satisfies both parties.