Homeland Security approves 15,000 additional H-2B visas to bring low-skilled foreign workers to US

Homeland Security approves 15,000 additional H-2B visas to bring low-skilled foreign workers to US
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is shown here testifying before the House Committee on Homeland Security in April 2018. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The Department of Homeland Security is providing businesses with an additional 15,000 H-2B visas, according to published reports. The visas allow low-skilled foreign workers into the U.S. to help fill seasonal jobs.

How many of the visas are issued each year?

Each year, the number of visas is capped by law at 66,000, which is divided evenly between the summer and winter seasons. This spring, Congress declined to lift the cap during negotiations. But Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was given permission to issue up to 69,000 more visas if she believes there is sufficient need.

Businesses such as fisheries, landscaping and summer tourist spots have said there are not enough workers to fill their seasonal jobs. Opponents of the practice say bringing in foreign workers is driving down American wages.

Last year, the Department of Homeland Security, then under the leadership of John Kelly, agreed to 15,000 additional visas as a “one-time” measure.

Is demand high?

Demand for the visas is so high this year that they were given out by lottery. That caused many longtime users of the program to lose out this year, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“I’ll call my attorney right now—make sure he’s ready to put me in,” said Peter Hall, owner of two restaurants in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, told the WSJ. He didn’t get any visas this year through the lottery and said he is in dire need of line cooks.

“The stress factor is just unbelievable. I don’t think I’ve ever been so stressed out in my life,” Hall said.

The DHS announcement Friday was expected as Nielsen previously told Congress members that she planned to authorize about 15,000 more visas.

In a statement, Nielsen said: “The limitations on H-2B visas were originally meant to protect American workers, but when we enter a situation where the program unintentionally harms American businesses it needs to be reformed.”

To qualify for the visas, business are required to state they will sustain “irreparable harm” without the foreign workers.

With unemployment at 3.9 percent, the lowest since 2000, some businesses are having trouble finding workers. Some of President Donald Trump’s properties have also used the program, according to the Wall Street Journal.