- Congress didn't extend the H-2B visa's returning worker exemption, cutting the number of visas in half to 66,000 and threatening businesses that depend on seasonal foreign workers, reports Bloomberg. Congress passed a bill in the spring authorizing the Department of Homeland Security to restore the annual cap of 130,000 but the agency failed to follow through immediately.
- This week DHS said it will increase the number of visas beyond the 66,000 cap in July, according to multiple reports. Exact details on how many would be available or when that might happen were not immediately available.
- According to the Portland Press Herald, visas will only be offered to seasonal businesses that would experience severe harm without the H-2B program's temporary employment help and are not likely to be approved until at least late July.
The H-2B program fills job roles in specific industries, often with a seasonal focus such as restaurants, hotels and resorts. The program is seen by some as helping to fill jobs American workers aren't interested in because of the low pay and seasonality. Critics have charged that the program allows employers to fill jobs that should go to U.S. employees with foreign workers.
The hospitality industry has been particularly hard hit by the H-2B visa shortage. Restaurants, hotels and inns in some communities have said the visa shortage will create a labor shortage at best and at worst could force businesses to close for the season if they can't find enough workers to fill critical service positions. The bill lawmakers passed will likely be too late in filling jobs for this summer season. And the DHS delay in issuing more visas further stalls the process.
The returning worker exemption was a key part of the H-2B visa program because it allowed workers coming from abroad to return season after season, guaranteeing employers a relatively stable labor source. Employers whose season started earlier this year were granted visas last year before they were capped.