U.S. to allow 15,000 extra low-wage seasonal worker visas this year

Irshad Salim — Despite President Trump’s vow to put American workers first, the administration on Monday announced that it will allow an additional 15,000 low-wage, seasonal workers into the United States during the remainder of the fiscal year, following heavy lobbying from industries that rely on temporary foreign workers.

Migrant workers on H-2B visas Adan Pozos Lopez, left, and Rafael Ramirez Cortes work on the assembly line at Harris’s Seafood Co’s oyster shucking plant in Grasonville, Md., in 2015.

The H-2B visas are designed for non-agricultural (non-farm) workers for jobs in a variety of business, including fisheries, construction, landscaping, hotels, restaurants, resorts and other seasonal industries. The Trump Organization is among the businesses that use the visas, including workers at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.

The U.S. grants up to 33,000 such visas every six months (66,000 per year from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30), meaning the additional visas will provide a 45% increase for the second half of the fiscal year, which ends a couple of months from now — on Sept. 30.

The visa expansion might not be large enough to satisfy some companies in need of workers. Congress earlier this year had authorized the DHS to offer up to 64,000 more H2B visas, but it was up Homeland Security secretary John Kelly to decide exactly how many to grant. (The number of H2B visas issued has fluctuated wildly over time.)

The Department of Homeland Security said the additional foreign workers are needed to save American companies that can’t find enough labor and could go out of business without the help.

“We’re talking about American businesses that are at risk of suffering irreparable harm if they don’t get additional H-2B workers, so we do think that fits into the ‘America first’ focus of the administration,” Homeland Security spokesman David Lapan told reporters on Monday.

The visa expansion was first approved by Congress, which authorized the administration to add up to 70,000 additional H-2B visas. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., helped lead the charge and applauded Monday’s announcement.

“As President Trump has noted, the H-2B program is vital for businesses that desperately need temporary help to keep their doors open and keep their American workforce employed,” Tillis said.

Businesses can begin applying for the visas this week, but must first attest that their firms would suffer permanent “irreparable harm” without importing foreign workers. They will be required to retain documents proving that they would not otherwise be able to meet their contractual obligations, or provide other evidence of severe financial loss, the officials said.

It’s a new requirement to access the visas under Trump’s “America First” administration.

Businesses’ petitions will be reviewed on a first-come, first-served basis, and granted without regard to industry type, geographic location or firm size, the officials said. Given that the summer is half over and that normal processing time takes 30 to 60 days, the officials recommended that businesses pay the $1,225 fee for expedited processing within 15 days.

Homeland Security said it would post the official notice of the additional visas in the Federal Register later this week.

Trump in February had called on Congress to pursue a “merit-based” immigration system that would favor high-skilled workers and close off avenues to lower-skilled immigrants and extended family members of permanent U.S. residents.

But Trump himself has used H-2B visas to hire temporary workers at his golf resorts in Palm Beach, Fla., and Jupiter, Fla.

“I’ve hired in Florida during the prime season — you could not get help,” Trump said during a 2015 primary debate. “Everybody agrees with me on that. They were part-time jobs. You needed them, or we just might as well close the doors, because you couldn’t get help in those hot, hot sections of Florida.”

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