Republican and Democratic senators called on the Biden administration to raise significantly the number of H-2B seasonal worker visas available – alleging that businesses will need to scale back operations without them.
Seventeen Republican senators joined with 17 Democrats to call on the Departments of Homeland Security and Labor to use their authority to max out the number of allowable H-2B visas for Fiscal Year 2022 – as well as use emergency procedures to speed up applications before the April 1 hiring period.
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.
The Biden administration announced last month that it was making an additional 20,000 visas available with 6,500 reserved for nationals of Haiti, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
That is similar 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.
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.
The lawmakers, led by Sen. Michael Rounds, R-S.D. and Sen. Angus King, I-Maine., said past raisings of the cap by 20,000 "were not sufficient to satisfy the total need for H-2B workers" and that in prior years, additional visas only came during peak season.
"American businesses from industries such as tourism and hospitality, landscaping, fairs and carnivals, seafood processing, golf courses, reforestation, contractors and horse racing depend on seasonal employment to meet the demand across many industries. Without meaningful H-2B cap relief, many seasonal businesses will be forced to scale back operations, cancel or default on contracts, lay off full-time U.S. workers and, in some cases, close operations completely," the senators wrote. "By taking action to release and process additional H-2B visas, seasonal businesses and U.S. workers across the country will avoid these harmful consequences and instead help contribute to the American economy."
The lawmakers call for DHS and DOL to make an additional 44,716 visas available immediately.