H-2B application processing changes to 'first come, first served'
- The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) says the extremely high number of H-2B visa application received has so overwhelmed the Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) that it will process applications as they're received instead of in batches based on the day filed. The agency urged employers that want visas for the second allotment period, April 1 through Sept. 30, 2018, to apply immediately for a temporary labor certification and file a petition with the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Service (USCIS), as required, before the semi-annual visa cap of 33,000 is met.
- OFLC says labor certification applications typically spike at the start of January for temporary and seasonal jobs in the spring and summer. The agency says it received an "unprecedented" number of employer requests for H-2B workers on January 1, 2018 — approximately three times greater than the number of applications received on January 1, 2017, and more than two-and-a-half times greater than the 33,000 semi-annual visa allotment.
- OFLC says the process change will prevent processing delays and give employers who filed promptly enough time to meet regulatory requirements, which includes an effort to recruit American workers.
The processing change further demonstrates that the demand for H-2B visas remains high. The tight labor market and low unemployment rate is exacerbating the already high need for hospitality workers, and Americans are historically uninterested in the seasonal jobs that H-2B visas help companies fill. Critics of the program, however, say the visas allow seasonal employers to essentially circumvent American hiring.
In 2017, Congress did not extend the H-2B's returning worker exemption, creating delays and shortages that led some restaurants, hotels and other seasonal businesses to consider closing for the season. Already, visa applications this year have exceeded those from last year at the same time. Employers — especially those in the seasonal hospitality industry — may face similar troubles going into 2018.
Getting visa applications in as early as possible and following up with the labor certification application and other requirements, DOL advises, is crucial if employers want to hire the workers they need in this job seekers' market.
Follow Kathryn Moody on Twitter