The United States needs more foreign workers to keep some American businesses from floundering, according to a decision announced by U.S. officials Monday. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said it will make 15,000 additional H-2B visas available for companies to hire temporary, non-agricultural foreign workers before the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30.
In a written statement, DHS Secretary John Kelly called the move a “one-time increase,” The Trump administration promotes what it calls a “Hire American” policy and the president has repeatedly called for more limited immigration. Pressed by a reporter about how the policy announcement to allow more foreign workers into the U.S. supports American jobs, a DHS spokesperson said that without those extra workers, U.S. businesses could suffer “irreparable harm.”
Exemption is not renewed
In order to hire foreign workers through the non-immigrant visa program, businesses must show there are not enough U.S. workers “able, willing, qualified, and available” for the jobs.
The H-2B program is capped at 66,000 new visas annually; of that, 33,000 is reserved for workers who are hired during the first half of the fiscal year (Oct. 1 — March 31) and the remainder are for the latter half (April 1 — Sept. 30).
Since 2015, however, some returning workers were able to participate beyond the cap, increasing the number of H-2B visas issued last year to nearly 85,000, according to State Department data.
But Congress did not renew the returnees exemption when it expired last fall, effectively curbing the number of available visas. Businesses that rely heavily on seasonal workers, like the tourism industry, said they have struggled to fill vacancies since then.
Businesses need to petition for visas
Part of budget legislation passed in May, however, gave the Department of Homeland Security — which includes U.S. CItizenship and Immigration Services — discretion to go over the 66,000 cap to compensate for the shortfall.
Businesses will be able to petition for the additional visas when the rule is published in the General Register later this week, according to senior DHS officials. Previous applicants who did not make the earlier cut-off for the fiscal year will have to reapply, the officials added, but if hired by the end of the fiscal year, they will be able to work past Sept. 30.
President Donald Trump uses the H-2B visa program to staff his Florida private club, where he has hosted visiting heads of state since his inauguration in January.