The Biden administration announced Thursday it is making 20,000 additional H-2B temporary worker visas available for the first half of 2022, with 6,500 reserved for nationals of Haiti, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
The visas give temporary legal status to nonagricultural service workers in seasonal areas such as landscaping, hotel and restaurant work. The number of visas is capped at 66,000 by Congress, but it can be lifted by the departments of Labor and Homeland Security.
It is a similar lift to last year, when the administration increased the number by 22,000. The Trump administration had moved to raise it by 35,000 in 2020 but stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statement, the Department of Homeland Security claimed the increase in visas is to benefit employers facing "irreparable harm" without additional labor.
"DHS is taking action to address the needs of our economy by making an additional 20,000 H-2B visas available to workers," said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. "We are providing employers with the resources and support needed to sustain their businesses while expanding lawful pathways to the United States. At the same time, DHS and DOL are protecting against the exploitation of H-2B workers."
Of the allocation, 13,500 are for returning workers who previously were given H-2B status, while 6,500 are being made available to nationals of Haiti, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras in response to an executive order by President Biden to promote "orderly" migration.
Both Republicans and Democrats have raised concerns about abuse of the H-2B program, warning that it incentivizes unscrupulous employers to pick foreign workers over Americans. Those who support an increase say it provides businesses much needed labor, particularly for summer businesses facing a tight labor market.