Seafood processors and other businesses reliant on guest worker employment scored a victory in last week’s omnibus spending bill signed into law by U.S. President Donald Trump.
The spending plan for the remainder of the 2018 fiscal year enables the Department of Homeland Security to work with the Department of Labor and increase the number of H-2B worker visas issued through 30 September.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the original cap of 66,000 can be nearly doubled to more than 129,500. That figure equals the 2007 tally, which is highest total of H-2B visas ever issued in one year.
Gregg Hartley, the co-chair of the H-2B Workforce Coalition said in an EFP Advocacy podcast that he hopes Homeland Security officials will use the program expansion to help companies who need workers.
“As the economy has grown and improved, we’ve needed more workers than” what has been approved previously, Hartley said.
Through H-2B visas, companies can hire foreign laborers for temporary seasonal jobs, such as seafood processing and landscaping. The visa allotment is split in half to cover equally the first six months of the fiscal year, through 31 March, and the final six months.
However, when the filing window opened in January for second-half visas, more than 4,000 companies applied for 81,600 visas – more than double what was initially available. That led to business leaders pushing the government for additional relief.
Without that relief, businesses that rely on H-2B visas might be forced “to turn away customers, lay off American workers whose jobs are supported by H-2B workers, and in some cases shut down their operations entirely," said the H-2B Workforce Coalition, representing seasonal employers, in a statement.
Last year, federal officials expanded the program beyond 66,000 as well. However, they only added about 15,000 visas. The seafood industry in certain parts of the country was affected by the decision as it was not able to secure the workers it needed. In Texas, for example, shrimp boats stayed docked due to a lack of workers.