WASHINGTON — The Biden administration, responding to an increasing demand for temporary workers, announced Thursday that it would make an additional 35,000 seasonal worker visas available to U.S. companies to hire foreign workers for the coming summer months.
The visa program being expanded, known as the H-2B visa program, will allow U.S. companies to hire foreign workers for seasonal non-farm jobs such as mowing lawns, cleaning hotel rooms, manning amusement parks and waiting tables. Industries such as landscaping, hospitality and tourism are particularly dependent on foreigners to meet high demand during the busy summer months.
Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the secretary of Homeland Security, said in a statement that the decision was “informed by current labor demand” to “help support American companies.”
The number of H-2B visas is normally limited to 33,000 for six months of each fiscal year. US Citizenship and Immigration Services announced in early March that it had already met the April-September limit.
Last April, the Department of Homeland Security said it would make an additional 22,000 seasonal worker visas available after U.S. employers indicated they needed additional workers. And in December, the administration moved to make an additional 20,000 visas available – the first time the number has been expanded for the winter season, where demand tends to be less than in the summer.
Of the 35,000 additional visas made available this summer, 23,500 will be available to returning workers from the past three years, while 11,500 will be reserved for foreigners from Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
While the expansion is likely to be welcomed by employers looking to fill lower-wage jobs, some unions and those seeking to limit immigration argue that the visa program is taking away opportunities for American workers and depressing wages. To hire foreign workers with an H-2B visa, employers must first prove to the Department of Labor that they cannot find U.S. workers to meet their needs.
American companies as diverse as landscape architects, amusement parks, restaurants and crab catchers have described how they continue to struggle to hire Americans to fill job openings. The coronavirus pandemic has also disrupted the flow of foreign workers to the United States for the past two years. But now that the job market has recovered, many employers have faced job seekers in the United States with more influence and less need for low-level jobs.
“Even with these additional visas, there aren’t nearly enough visas for all types of employees that employers want to hire into the H-2B program,” said Stephen W. Yale-Loehr, an immigration attorney who teaches at Cornell Law School. “But in the short term, the board can at least help with this immediately.”
In his statement, Mr Mayorkas acknowledged that foreign workers who fill seasonal positions may face exploitation by employers. He said the government would act against such violations.
“We recognize the importance of strong worker protection,” he said, “we will increase our oversight of those employers who have a track record of violating obligations to their employees and the H-2B program.”