The US Department of Homeland Security announced on Friday that it would issue an additional 15,000 H-2B visas this summer for employers to hire non-farm seasonal workers from abroad, the Wall Street Journal reported. The guest worker visa program is limited by Congress to 66,000 of the six-month visas each year, divided evenly between the summer and winter seasons. This cap has not been raised since the 1990s, but the spending bill passed by Congress in March grants Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen the discretion to issue about twice that number depending on labor market needs.
DHS also issued an additional 15,000 visas last year, but coming in July, that decision was criticized as coming too late in the season to mitigate the shortages of seasonal labor that employers in sectors like hospitality, tourism, and landscaping had complained of. The Trump administration’s anti-immigration posture and its reluctance to open up the US to more foreign workers of any kind have had an impact on these seasonal industries’ ability to fill jobs, forcing them to raise wages, scramble to find American workers, or cut back on business in response. (Critics of the H-2B program, on both the left and the right, say these employers should be paying higher wages and working harder to market these jobs to US citizens.)
This summer, the labor market in the US is as tight as it was last year, if not more so, and seasonal employers are facing a similar challenge. Candidates for seasonal positions are finding themselves with more bargaining power than they used to have, being able to demand greater flexibility and control over their schedules. Employers have reported, meanwhile, that their applications for H-2B visas are being rejected at higher rates than usual. Demand for the visas this year so greatly exceeded the cap, the department had to award them through a lottery system, making the process more unpredictable for business owners who are accustomed to using these visas regularly.
As seasonal industries like construction, landscaping, and home improvement ramp up hiring for the warmer months of the year, the tightness of the US labor market is requiring employers to embrace new technologies to recruit at a faster pace, and engendering unusually stiff competition for seasonal talent. Candidates for part-time and temporary work don’t normally hold much leverage when it comes to negotiating pay and benefits, in this economy, they are increasingly able to demand more flexibility in terms of scheduling, Steve Bates writes in an overview of the seasonal hiring landscape at SHRM:
“The old way was ‘You’ve got to work certain shifts,’ ” said Greg Dyer, president of Randstad Commercial Staffing, who is based in Atlanta. “Now the workforce is demanding ‘I want to work when I want to work.’ “
Low unemployment and improved technology have empowered the full-time workforce. That trend is filtering down to seasonal hiring as the gig economy grows and increasing numbers of U.S. workers—particularly Millennials—value flexibility over pay rates and long-term job security.
“It is a worker’s market,” said Jocelyn Mangan, chief operating officer of online employment platform Snagajob, which is headquartered in Arlington, Va. “Employers are having to work harder.” … In addition to using traditional online job postings, employers are experimenting with kiosks, social media and mobile apps to find, schedule and keep seasonal hires.
The scarcity of available seasonal workers is also becoming a challenge for retailers, shipping companies, and other employers in the winter season, leading many companies to start their search for holiday workers earlier than usual in the autumn.
To address a shortage of labor in seasonal industries like hospitality and tourism, the US Department of Homeland Security on Monday authorized the release of an additional 15,000 H-2B visas, which are designated for low-skill, non-farm seasonal workers, for businesses that can prove they will be harmed if they cannot access foreign labor this summer, the New York Times reports:
Each year, the government makes available 66,000 H-2B visas, which are divided between the winter and summer seasons. The summer allotment has been quickly exhausted because Congress, concerned about the visa program’s impact on American workers, chose in December not to renew a provision that did not count workers who previously had H-2B visas against the quota. That decision halved the number of available visas. Congress then gave the homeland security secretary, John F. Kelly, the authority to release more visas, which a bipartisan group of lawmakers had been calling on him to do since May. …
Before being granted a seasonal visa, businesses must show that they have tried to fill vacancies with domestic workers by placing advertisements. They must also attest, under penalty of perjury, that their businesses will suffer permanent and severe financial loss if they are not allowed to hire foreign workers.
The decision to issue more H-2B visas seems to conflict with President Donald Trump’s “Hire American” policy and his attempts to rein in other work visa programs like the H-1B, but DHS officials are depicting the decision as pro-American businesses, Quartz’s Ana Campoy adds, though it also may not be sufficient:
The summer job, once a staple of American teenage life, has been on the decline for decades: As the Economist’s Lexington columnist points out, only 43 percent of US teens were working or looking for work last July, compared to a record high of 72 percent in 1978. Lexington finds this decline to be cause for lament:
Some parents may question the value of manual work in an age of high-tech change. But an elite education counts for little without self-discipline and resilience. Drudgery can teach humility: when hauling boxes, a brain full of algebra matters less than a teen’s muscles. At best, it can breach the social barriers that harm democracy. Summer jobs are called all-American for a reason.
So what’s to blame for the demise of this American tradition? Some say teens are being crowded out by older people working past the traditional retirement age, or by immigrants. Others say increases in the minimum wage discourage employers from hiring teenagers when they can attract more qualified college students or adults for entry-level jobs. All of these factors may have something to do with it.
On the other side of the equation, teenagers aren’t blowing off work to spend all summer lounging around; instead, they’re spending their time on other pursuits, Bloomberg’s Ben Steverman noted last month:
Thursday marked the start of autumn in the northern hemisphere, but you wouldn’t know it from the weather on the east coast of the US. It’s been a hot September, and NASA recently announced that worldwide, August was the hottest month observed in 136 years of modern record-keeping—or rather, it tied with July. Whether we like it or not, the world is getting hotter, and this stands to have a significant impact on our productivity. A recent paper published in Science magazine investigates the link between climate change and the economy, positing that a warming planet stands to make society less economically productive:
Temperature, in particular, exerts remarkable influence over human systems at many social scales; heat induces mortality, has lasting impact on fetuses and infants, and incites aggression and violence while lowering human productivity. High temperatures also damage crops, inflate electricity demand, and may trigger population movements within and across national borders. Tropical cyclones cause mortality, damage assets, and reduce economic output for long periods. Precipitation extremes harm economies and populations predominately in agriculturally dependent settings. These effects are often quantitatively substantial; for example, we compute that temperature depresses current U.S. maize yields roughly 48%, warming trends since 1980 elevated conflict risk in Africa by 11%, and future warming may slow global economic growth rates by 0.28 percentage points year. …
Although climate is clearly not the only factor that affects social and economic outcomes, new quantitative measurements reveal that it is a major factor, often with first-order consequences.
This is by no means the first study to make such a connection. In July, Brady Dennis at the Washington Post highlighted new research published ahead of a UN forum on climate change, which found that as extreme heat conditions become more common, a great deal of productivity will be lost because people are simply too hot to work: