US expands H-2B visa pool by 15,000

Published on
May 29, 2018

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said on Friday, 25 May, it will expand a temporary visa program used by seafood processors and other non-agricultural businesses, but some in the seafood industry are questioning the announcement’s timing.

An additional 15,000 H-2B visa will be made available for U.S. companies to hire foreign workers, according to DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. Her decree comes roughly two months after the U.S. Congress authorized the department to expand the number of visas beyond the annual cap of 66,000.

Last year, federal officials also added 15,000 visas to the program to account for demand.

In a statement, Nielsen said the cap was designed to protect U.S. workers. However, some businesses, such as lobster processors, have not been able to find enough workers to staff their boats. As a result, it's impacting American jobs as well. Now, the secretary wants legislators to do more than just delegate authority to her.

“I call on Congress to pass much needed reforms of the program and to expressly set the number of H-2B visas in statute,” she said in a statement. “We are once again in a situation where Congress has passed the buck and turned a decision over to DHS that would be better situated with Congress, who knows the needs of the program.  As [s]ecretary, I remain committed to protecting U.S. workers and strengthening the integrity of our lawful immigration system and look forward to working with Congress to do so.”

According to the Baltimore Sun, processing plants along Maryland’s Eastern Shore are missing up to 40 percent of their usual workforce because they were unable to secure visas. This year, the 66,000 visas were distributed through a lottery system instead of on a first-come basis. 

Maryland crabbers aren’t the only seafood processors who have been affected. Last year, shrimpers in Texas saw their boats docked because of a lack of workers.

“As American unemployment has dropped, demand for temporary seasonal workers has increased dramatically,” U.S. Rep. Andy Harris (R-Maryland), who represents the Eastern Shore, said on Facebook. “Maryland’s seafood processing industry and other seasonal industries are suffering without the temporary workers who come to the U.S. through the H-2B visa program.” 

H2 Visa Consultants, which helps companies find foreign labor for H-2B and other visa programs, took aim at Nielsen after her announcement, saying there’s been a greater than 200 percent increase in requests for H-2B workers. Failing to authorize a larger total will hurt the economy, the company said in a series of messages on Twitter.

“It was a big win for illegal immigration this week, as (Nielsen and President Trump) have restricted H-2B visa access for seasonal businesses, placing them in a position of having to close down operations or hire an undocumented workforce. What do you think most will choose?” the company said on Twitter, adding a “saveh2b“ hashtag. 

Photo courtesy of the Center for Immigration Studies

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