The federal government is increasing the number of visas for unskilled temporary workers by 30,000 through the end of the fiscal year, even as President Donald Trump has continued to push more broadly to limit immigration.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen approved the move last month after consulting with Labor Secretary Alex Acosta to determine that U.S. businesses could not meet their needs to fill temporary positions in tourism, hospitality, landscaping, and other nonfarm industries.
Congress has set a cap of 66,000 guest workers under the H-2B visa program but allows the administration to approve additional workers beyond the ceiling. Last year, the United States issued 83,744 H-2B visas, State Department data shows.
This year’s increase falls short of the figure requested by members of Congress and businesses who say they are unable to find workers. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has sought the maximum increase of nearly 65,000 additional visas, noting that seasonal employers need 95,000 H-2B workers from April 1 to Sept. 30 of this year.
Bipartisan members of Congress in January wrote a plea for permanent increases in the program, calling the decades-old cap “wholly inadequate” and warning of severe consequences for seasonal industries and the broader economy. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., has introduced legislation that would allow additional workers beyond the cap in states with low unemployment.
The Center for Immigration Studies has denounced an increase in the H-2B program, saying it would break pledges by Trump to help low-skilled U.S. workers and decrease overall immigration. The president has faced criticism for his own company’s use of H-2B workers at its resorts and golf courses.
“President Trump continues to increase the number of H-2B guest workers every time he has the opportunity,” research associate Preston Huennekens wrote on the group’s blog. “This is entirely his own administration's fault. His supporters did not vote for more guest workers—they voted to return Americans to the workforce.” —Anne K. Walters