On March 31, the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Labor (DOL) announced an additional 35,000 H-2B visas for the second half of Fiscal Year 2022. Of the 35,000 visas issued, 23,500 will be allocated to returning workers who received or were granted an H-2B visa over the past three fiscal years. The remaining 11,500 visas will be distributed to nationals of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Haiti.
The H-2B nonimmigrant visa program allows employers to hire low-skilled foreign nationals to temporarily fill seasonal, nonagricultural jobs. Some H-2B program occupational fields include construction, landscaping, forestry, hospitality, culinary, and meatpacking. Most of the H-2B guestworkers certified by the DOL work in landscaping.
The Immigration and Nationality Act delegates authority to Congress to apportion 66,000 H-2B visas each fiscal year. The first half of the visas (33,000) are presented during the first half of the fiscal year (October 1 to March 31), while the remaining 33,000 and any unused visas from the previous allocation are presented during the second half of the fiscal year (April 1 to September 30).
The Center for Immigration Studies’ Robert Law pointed out that DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced the second half of H-2B positions before employers can apply for the guestworker program.
Law also noted, “The H-2B program nominally has a labor market test, known as the Temporary Labor Certification (TLC), run by the Department of Labor. This process is free for employers to file and loophole-ridden to such a degree that DOL essentially rubber-stamps every TLC that comes across its desk. Those employers who haven’t even begun the TLC process are now armed with the knowledge that more cheap foreign workers are available, reducing any incentive to look for American workers.”
FAIR has noted that H-2B visa holders are commonly paid less than American citizens. Moreover, the guestworker scheme distorts the labor market by hiring foreign workers cheaper, removing incentives to employ qualified and available American citizens at higher wages, and improved working conditions. There are countless instances of the Department of Justice filing legal action against employers and businesses claiming a labor shortage in their vicinity when local workers were abundant.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), more than 6 million Americans were unemployed as of March. Also, the BLS reported an additional 4.2 million American workers who are employed part-time for economic reasons but are actively seeking a full-time job. This group of workers is either working part-time because their hours were scaled back or could not procure full-time occupations.
Taken together, what sense does it make to import large numbers of foreign workers when millions of U.S. citizens do not have a job or are seeking full-time employment? By throwing open the door for more guestworkers, the Biden administration is diminishing struggling individuals’ employment and wage prospects.
If President Joe Biden is serious about increasing labor force participation and improving job opportunities, he should implement reforms that FAIR has called for.
For starters, the DOL should review the prevailing wage to ensure H-2B workers are not paid less than American workers. Another measure entails denying the DHS secretary discretionary authority to increase the current cap. Artificially adding more visas beyond the 66,000 limit undermines Congress’ ability to determine if the country needs more foreign workers.
During his campaign, President Biden championed himself as an advocate for the American worker. In reality, he is turning his back on working Americans by importing cheap foreign labor while the country is still experiencing the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and soaring inflation. His administration should prioritize its citizens over the financial interests of unscrupulous businesses trying to cut costs.