More H-2B Visas to be Released, DHS Announces
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced that it plans to release 22,000 more H-2B visas in addition to the 66,000 H-2B visas available annually, reserving 6,000 for the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.
U.S. employers may bring foreign nationals to this country to fill temporary, non-agricultural jobs in H-2B status. H-2B visas are relied on heavily by the tourist, hospitality, landscaping, seafood, and construction industries. In recent years, all the visas have been used up and businesses have gone begging for more – often just to be able to remain afloat.
Annually, 66,000 H-2B visas are available, half for the winter season and half for the summer season. These 33,000 visas are wholly insufficient for the number of jobs open for H-2B workers. For the summer of 2021, the Department of Labor received applications for a total of 98,000 workers, all vying for one of the coveted 33,000 spots. Due to the overwhelming demand, the 33,000 H-2B visas were used by February 12, 2021. The prospect of thousands of jobs unfilled for their busiest season panicked many industries.
For years, employers have advocated for additional H-2B visas. In response, Congress authorized DHS to release more visas. In 2020, DHS planned to release an additional 35,000 visas, with 10,000 specifically reserved for nationals of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, but that was put on hold due to high unemployment rates resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
It could be a few months before USCIS issues the final rule and obligations for employers to obtain one of the 22,000 new H-2B visas. If it is like last year, U.S. employers likely will need to perform additional recruitment before applying for the visas.