Despite the Trump administration’s calls to halt immigration at the southern border, the government plans to issue 30,000 additional H-2B visas above the annual cap of 66,000. While this might seem incongruous with the administration’s claims that the country is too full, low rates of unemployment are leaving employers in Illinois and elsewhere without enough workers to fill their jobs. The H-2B visa program is a legal way for foreign workers to legally work in the U.S. in non-agricultural seasonal jobs such as construction, restaurants, and tourism. These industries heavily rely on the H-2B visa program to have the workers that they need during their busiest months.
Call for More Visas
In March 2019, Senator Susan Collins sent a letter to the former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, to ask Nielsen to lift the cap of 66,000 H-2B visas. Collins requested the cap to be increased to 135,320 workers because of the tightening labor market. While DHS did not agree to expand the visa cap by as much as what Collins requested, it did agree to issue 30,000 additional visas beyond the annual cap of 66,000.
The visas are divided between the summer and winter seasons, and businesses are forced to compete for them. In 2018, 75% of the H-2B visas were issued to people from Mexico. The visas benefit businesses that are unable to find American workers to fill their jobs, and they also benefit foreign workers by allowing them to legally work in the U.S. for the duration of the visas.
Proponents of the H-2B visa program argue that there should not be a cap on the number of visas that are issued each year. Businesses that apply for H-2B visas must first show that they have been unable to find Americans to fill their open positions before they can compete for the visas. Unemployment is also at a record low, making it even more difficult to find workers to fill seasonal jobs.
The 30,000 additional visas will be issued through Sept. 30. Only workers who have had H-2B visas in the past will be eligible for the additional visas. Businesses that have had H-2B workers in the past can submit applications for those workers to return to the U.S. and to work for them again.