The Departments of Homeland Security and Labor have put forward a new rule requiring companies to give U.S. workers more of a chance at applying for a temporary, seasonal job before that job is given to a foreign worker.
"These rules strengthen protections for U.S. workers, providing that they have a fair shot at finding and applying for jobs for which employers are seeking H-2B workers, while also providing that employers can access foreign workers on a temporary basis when U.S. workers are not available," the agencies said in a statement.
The rule is likely to be favored by some Republicans who have criticized the Obama administration for favoring foreign workers over U.S. workers. However, it was already being criticized by some House GOP members who believe the rule will make it too hard for companies to get access to the seasonal foreign workers they need to run their businesses.
"The Obama administration had the opportunity to issue user-friendly regulations for the thousands of American employers who use the H-2B program, but it knowingly failed to do so," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). "The new regulations issued by the Obama administration are overly burdensome for the small and seasonal businesses that play by the rules and use this guestworker program to hire a legal workforce."
The rule released by DHS adjusts the process companies must use for handing out H-2B visas. Those visas are given to foreign, non-agricultural temporary workers who plan to return to their home countries once the job ends. Under the law, foreign workers can get these visas if the Labor Department certifies that unemployed Americans can't be found to do the job.
But under the new rule, the jobs being made available must be more broadly advertised, and jobs must be open to U.S. workers until 21 days before the needed start date. The rule said that chnage would give U.S. workers more of a chance to fill the job.
Additionally, the rule requires companies to "demonstrate their temporary need for labor services before they apply for a temporary labor certification," which is needed to get final approval for the visa.
Elsewhere, the rule requires companies to pay U.S. workers the same wages and benefits as foreign workers, and ups the total cost to companies of hiring foreign workers.
"The interim final rule requires employers to pay visa and related fees of H-2B workers, and it requires employers to pay the inbound transportation and subsistence costs of workers who complete 50 percent of the job order period and the outbound transportation and subsistence expenses of employees who complete the entire job order period," it said.
The H-2B program has been held up by several legal challenges, which had prompted the federal government to temporarily suspend the program over the last few years. The government is hopeful that the proposed rule will clarify these issues and allow the program to run without interruption.