The Department of Homeland Security recently delivered welcome news for seasonal employers, announcing that an additional 64,716 H-2B visas will be issued in the 2024 fiscal year. This is in addition to the congressionally mandated 66,000 H-2B visas already available.
What are H-2B visas?
The H-2B visas permit employers with seasonal labor needs to temporarily hire noncitizens in nonagricultural positions after exhausting their efforts to hire American citizens. The keyword here is “temporary,” which encompasses seasonal, one-time or intermittent labor needs.
Before requesting H-2B visas, employers must apply to the Department of Labor for a certification showing they made every effort to recruit U.S. citizens, before they are considered for H-2B visas. Employers must also prove that hiring noncitizen labor “will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers.”
The maximum period a noncitizen worker can stay in the U.S. on an H-2B visa is three years. After that time has elapsed, the worker must leave the country for three uninterrupted months before the U.S. allows them to reapply for a visa.
Why the increase in visas?
The additional visas are part of the Biden Administration’s promise to expand legal options for noncitizens seeking work in the U.S., so they don’t resort to dangerous and problematic “irregular migration.” The pledge includes protections for noncitizen workers against exploitation by abusive employers.
An added consideration is the labor shortage the country is currently experiencing. Seasonal industries such as hospitality and landscaping have struggled to meet increasing demand. Filling these vacant jobs will help grow the economy, which has had a turbulent couple of years during and after the covid pandemic.
As unlawful immigration into the U.S. has increased in 2023, the Biden-Harris Administration intends to earmark 20,000 of the newly available visas specifically for workers from Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti and Honduras. The goal is to provide people from these countries with an organized and controlled path to legal work in the U.S. and discourage illegal efforts with harsher consequences.
The new allocation of H-2B visas will be available to returning workers granted visas in one of the past three fiscal years. This allows employers to bring back exceptional workers for re-employment and reduces the need for first-time training.