H-2B Highlights: Your Guide to the Recently-Expanded Visa Program

H-2B Highlights: Your Guide to the Recently-Expanded Visa Program

By Andrew Soboeiro

Federal policy impacts our lives directly, and this is never more clear than with visa programs. Whatever your background, the number and types of visas available may affect your ability to see family and friends, start or expand a business, or further your education. The Trump Administration’s recent decision to expand the number of H-2B visas is thus of great interest to citizens and foreign nationals alike, generating both praise and criticism from a variety of source.

Overview of the H-2B Visa Program

The H-2 Visa Program is a Federal policy that allows unskilled workers from foreign countries to temporarily live and work in the United States. Created in 1952 under the Immigration and Nationality Act, it was later divided into two categories by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986: H-2A visas, which are available to agricultural laborers, and H-2B visas, which are for workers in all other fields. At present, up to 66,000 requests for H-2B visas can be approved each fiscal year, with 33,000 approved for the summer and another 33,000 for the winter. Once approved, an applicant can remain in the country for up to 364 days, depending on the terms of their employment. The majority of people approved are citizens of Mexico, while large numbers of visas are also issued to Jamaicans and Guatemalans. Those with H-2B visas disproportionately work in fields like housekeeping, tourism, fishing, and food service, where there is a high demand for employees who have received relatively little education.

Understanding the Trump Administration’s Recent Decision

Prior to 2016, the limit of 66,000 H-2B visas per year only applied to new applicants to the program. Workers who had already held H-2B visas were exempt, meaning they could return without counting towards the cap. In 2016, however, Congress neglected to renew this exemption, so that the number of new and returning H-2B workers together cannot exceed 66,000. This has made the program more competitive and led to a labor shortage for the businesses that rely on it. In letting the exemption for returning workers expire, Congress did authorize the president to raise the cap if need be. The Trump Administration recently did just that, allowing an additional 15,000 H-2B visas to be issued for the second half of the fiscal year. This represents a 45 percent increase in the number of these visas authorized during this time period. This decision, billed as an attempt to bolster American businesses, has proven controversial. Critics claim that the Trump Administration is betraying its “America First” ideology by allowing firms to hire foreign workers, and that the president is motivated by a desire to obtain cheap labor for his own businesses. Supporters of this decision counter that it will be good for the economy as a whole and that few Americans would have taken the positions it will help to fill.

Whatever the wisdom of the recent H-2B expansion, Vigoda Law is committed to helping you understand such policies in depth. For more information on visa and immigration topics, call 919-307-7817 or visit our website today.