The Biden administration will issue 22,000 additional work visas to seasonal visitors this year in anticipation of the busy summer season, the Department of Homeland Security announced Tuesday.
These visas are in addition to the 66,000 H-2B visas the government issues each year to seasonal employers, including landscapers, fishing companies, resorts and fairs that need additional staff during the peak season.
The move comes weeks after the Biden administration lifted a ban on visitor and other work visas imposed by the Trump administration in June in light of the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Six thousand of these additional visas will be issued to applicants from the Northern Triangle countries (Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras), which together send the largest number of migrant families and children to the U.S. border seeking asylum.
The seasonal worker program, known as the H-2B visa program, allows U.S. employers to hire up to 66,000 temporary foreign workers per year, with the allocation divided equally between the winter and summer seasons. Congress authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to increase this limit by an additional 64,000 visas per year.
In order for an employer to hire a foreign worker with an H-2B visa, the employer must first attempt to hire a U.S. worker and obtain certification from the U.S. Department of Labor that the position is not available. The program includes requirements for the amount of wages employers must pay to workers so that they do not earn less than their U.S. counterparts, and the program requires them to continue to hire Americans even after foreign workers are hired.
Guest agricultural workers are covered by a separate H-2A visa program that has no congressional restrictions.
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The Biden administration is under pressure from businesses and lawmakers – Republicans and Democrats – to issue more visas to boost the economy as the country recovers from a year of labor pandemics and travel restrictions.
The business community has expressed dismay that the government is not lifting the ban on work visas soon. Sir, I’m sorry. Mr. Biden’s transition team has promised it will be repealed on day one, according to people familiar with their thinking.
The program acts as a critical safety valve for businesses when there are not enough American workers to meet the demand for these short-term jobs, the H-2B Workers Coalition, a group of seasonal workers, wrote in a letter to the Secretary of Homeland Security.
With the ban, the Trump administration said it wanted to protect opportunities for the growing number of unemployed Americans. But an investigation by the Wall Street Journal found that the work and visa ban was not having the desired effect: Jobs that were intended for foreigners, mostly high-skilled positions such as software engineers or seasonal workers, have left for abroad or have not been filled.
Additional visas are issued before the summer, when demand for short-term work is usually highest. Demand has consistently exceeded the normal ceiling, and the Trump administration, under similar pressure, has raised the ceiling every year.
Unlike most immigration issues, support for allowing temporary foreign workers is not divided along party lines. Republicans who support pro-business initiatives and Democrats who support immigrant rights are on the same side, opposing unions and hard-working immigrants.
A similar ideological divide exists within the Biden administration, with some arguing for more immigration based on employment and others sympathizing with unions’ arguments that foreign workers are taking jobs that would otherwise go to Americans, perhaps at higher wages.
Proponents of temporary work visas also argue that they allow workers, especially from Mexico, to work legally in the United States, reducing the incentive for illegal migration.
While the business community has pushed hard for additional visas, it’s hard to say how much of a difference they will make this year. Most U.S. consulates abroad do not process all types of visas and in many cases give priority to permanent immigrants over temporary workers, according to the State Department.
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