The Department of Homeland Security announced today that it will allow for a one-time increase of up to 15,000 H-2B nonimmigrant visas through the end of the 2017 fiscal year.
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H-2B nonimmigrant visas allow American companies to fill temporary and low-wage, non-agricultural jobs, including in landscaping, construction and hospitality.
After consulting with Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta, DHS Secretary John Kelly determined that there were "not enough U.S. workers who are willing, qualified and able to perform temporary, non-agricultural labor to satisfy the needs of some American businesses,” according to a senior DHS official.
DHS officials spoke on background during a briefing with reporters Monday morning.
These 15,000 H-2B visas are in addition to the 33,000 that were available for the second half of the fiscal year, which runs from April 1 to September 30, according to DHS.
The new rule will be available for public inspection today and be published later this week. Once it is published, American businesses will be able to apply immediately. Businesses must meet existing requirements, including "temporary labor certification," which is approved by the Labor Department. The new rule does not limit visas to specific industries.
This "one-time deal" has a new requirement, however. Businesses must affirm that they would "suffer irreparable harm" or permanent and severe financial loss if they were to not receive all the H-2B visas they applied for. Employers will have to be able to provide documents like payroll records or contracts that need to be filled to support their claim of “irreparable harm" and retain that proof for three years.
"Sec. Kelly believes the 15,000 additional visas will satisfy those businesses that will suffer irreparable harm,” a DHS official said on the call.
DHS said it based the number of additional visas on the requests it received last year.
Once the new rule is live, petitions will be adjudicated on "first-in, first-out basis” without regard to industry, geography, or size of business, according to DHS. Officials declined to speculate about how many of the 15,000 available visas they expect to grant.
The additional visas were approved on a "highly expedited timeline," according to DHS. In previous years, Congress authorized additional visas “much earlier," because some H-2B visas are used to hire seasonal workers, DHS said.
"We understand it is late in the season, but given the circumstances, we're working as hard as we can,” said DHS Spokesperson Dave Lapan.
Businesses can pay an extra fee for premium processing, which is about 15 calendar days. Otherwise, it takes around 30 to 60 days for petitions to be evaluated by DHS. In this situation, premium processing would "be the best way to go,” said a senior DHS official.
H-2B workers can work during the time frame on the labor certification, which can be up to 10 months, according to DHS, and workers can also work beyond the current fiscal year.
Lapan said that despite the fact that these visas allow for more foreign workers, the new rule is still in line with President Trump's "America first" agenda.
"This does help with American businesses continuing to prosper," Lapan said.
The new rule also requires businesses to first advertise for American workers as part of the normal H-2B process, which should alleviate those concerns, according to a Labor Department official.