DHS more than doubles H-2B visa allocation for final six months of 2022
Once again, the U.S. federal government has announced a short-term expansion of the H-2B visa program, which non-agricultural businesses – including seafood processors – use to hire foreign workers to fill temporary but essential positions.
On Thursday, 31 March, 2022, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced the H-2B visa cap for the second half of the 2022 fiscal year that starts on 1 April will be more than doubled. The 35,000 new visas available will complement the initial cap of 33,000 slated for the final six months of the fiscal year.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said “current demand in the labor market” drove the decision. However, he said companies that utilize the program will be subject to closer examination.
“Recognizing the importance of strong worker protections, we will apply greater scrutiny to those employers who have a record of violating obligations to their workers and the H-2B program,” Mayorkas said in a statement.
Seafood processors – many in remote locations, such as eastern Maryland’s rural counties and Alaskan islands – will be among those vying for the visas, along with resorts, landscapers, and other seasonal employers.
Of the additional 35,000 visas, 23,500 will go to returning workers who either previously received a visa or were granted H-2B status in either federal fiscal year 2021, 2020, or 2019. The remaining 11,500 can go to new workers but are dedicated to individuals from Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
Maryland Democratic U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin said the additional visa allotment will be crucial for their state’s crab houses. They said they pushed for more visas available after the Department of Homeland Security granted visas to only one of the state’s 10 processors. They also said they gave the agency the authority to expand the program in an omnibus spending bill.
“The small businesses that make up Maryland’s crab and seafood industries are vital to our local shore economy and our communities,” the senators said in a joint statement. “Having a reliable workforce is crucial to their success, and the H-2B visa program is essential to building and maintaining that workforce… We’re glad to see them heed our calls to provide these additional visas, and we urge them to get the visas out as quickly as possible to the businesses that need them. Together, we will continue working towards a long-term legislative solution to both uphold worker rights and bring more certainty to this program that Maryland’s seafood small businesses rely on.”
Photo courtesy of Office of Maryland Governor Larry Hogan