DHS to issue additional 30,000 H-2B visas

Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen calls on Congress to issue ‘long-term legislative fix’ to H-2B problem
The H-2B visa cap for the second half of FY 2019 was met in February, according to USCIS. (Photo: Kostyantin Panki, Dreamstime)

The Department of Homeland Security announced on March 29 that it will issue an additional 30,000 H-2B visas. Only workers who have been issued a guest worker visa in the past three fiscal years will be eligible.

As of April 3, DHS and the Department of Labor had not released an official press release with the announcement or additional eligibility requirements. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine, a proponent of increasing the statutory cap on H-2B visas, shared the DHS’s Determination on H-2B Visas.

[Related: Potential H-2B changes in the works]

“After consultation with Secretary Acosta and carefully weighing several factors, including whether U.S. workers may be harmed, and impact statements from your constituents, Secretary Nielsen has decided to allocate an additional 30,000 H-2B visas for the remainder of fiscal year 2019. Further, this supplemental visa allocation will be available only to applicants who have held H-2B status in at least one of the past three fiscal years (2016, 2017 and 2018). Details on eligibility and filing requirements will be available in the temporary final rule and on uscis.gov when the final temporary rule is posted for public inspection,” according to the determination shared by Pingree.

Andrea Palermo, DHS spokeswoman, shared the following statement by email with Colorado Patio & Landscape: “The Secretary continues to urge lawmakers to pursue a long-term legislative fix that both meets employers’ temporary needs while fulfilling the President’s Buy American and Hire American Executive Order to spur higher wages and employment rates for workers in the United States and to protect their economic interests. But the truth is that Congress is in the best position to know 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.”

The initial cap of 33,000 visas for the second half of fiscal year 2019 was reached in February, according to USCIS. Visa petitions were filled using a lottery. Not included in those 33,000 visas were workers who were currently in the U.S. on an H-2B visa but were petitioning to extend their stay.

[Related: What happened to the H-2B program in 2018: Landscapes 2018]

The additional visas are twice the amount that have been granted in previous years, but far short of what some say the industry needs.

Pingree joined Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland and Sens. Mike Rounds of South Dakota and Thom Tillis of North Carolina in early March to argue for as many as 69,320 additional visas to be released, the maximum allowed by law. That letter was signed by 138 members of Congress, including Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, and Reps. Ken Buck, Jason Crow, Diana DeGette, Doug Lamborn, Ed Perlmutter and Scott Tipton.

In a letter to DHS Secretary Nielsen, a bipartisan group of 11 senators, including Colorado’s Cory Gardner, asked Nielsen to increase the number of H-2B visas to 135,320. That’s the number of these visas that were available in fiscal year 2007 “when the Returning Worker Exemption was in force,” according to the letter.

The senators noted that the Department of Labor received 96,400 applications for H-2B visas in the second filing period for FY 2019.

“This volume of applications reflects a growing need for seasonal workers as the labor market continues to tighten: In the past year, the national unemployment rate has fallen to 4%, even as nearly 1.5 million Americans have rejoined the workforce,” the senators wrote in the letter.

News of the additional visas was first reported by CarnivalWarehouse.com, a website covering news for the carnival and fair industry, which relies heavily on H-2B labor.

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