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U.S. Provides 15K Temporary Visas for Seasonal Workers

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on July 18, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

President Donald Trump has been adamant in his "America First" rhetoric, saying recently, "Clearly it's time for a new policy, one defined by two simple rules: We will buy American. And we will hire American." But sometimes the interests of American companies and American workers aren't so closely aligned.

"As a demonstration of the administration's commitment to supporting American businesses," said Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, the government will provide 15,000 additional visas for foreign seasonal workers. The move is designed to aid "U.S. businesses in danger of suffering irreparable harm due to a lack of available temporary nonagricultural workers," but not be welcomed by groups advocating for more employment for U.S. workers.

Working the Numbers

Congress originally set the cap for temporary H-2B visas at 66,000 per year, divided between the winter and summer seasons. But, citing concern about the visa program's impact on American workers, Congress also chose not to renew a provision that did not count previous H-2B visa holders against the quota, meaning that only half of the normal amount of visas were available.

So in May, lawmakers cleared the way for Kelly to approve up to an additional 70,000 H-2B visas, as well as the discretion to issue as many of them as he thought appropriate. While some employers are lamenting the grant of 15,000 more visas is too little, too late, others fear the negative impact on American workers and the increased victimization of temporary foreign employees.

How to H-2B

Before being granted an H-2B visa, businesses must first demonstrate that they tried to fill temporary or seasonal vacancies with domestic workers by placing advertisements. Second, they must attest that if they are not allowed to hire foreign workers, their businesses will suffer "permanent and severe financial loss."

Even with these requirements, some fear that the new visas interrupt a trend in raising wages to attract American workers to seasonal and temporary jobs. And Daniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research at the Economic Policy Institute, told Reuters, "Expanding the H-2B program without reforming it to improve protections and increase wages for migrant workers will essentially allow unscrupulous employers to carve out an even larger rights-free zone in the low-wage labor market."

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