On Friday, the Department of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Department of Labor, announced plans to make an additional 64,716 H-2B temporary nonagricultural worker visas available for Fiscal Year 2024, on top of the congressionally mandated 66,000 H-2B visas that are available each fiscal year. This is the second year in a row that the departments have added these many visas to the program and the third annual expansion of the program.
These additional H-2B visas represent the maximum permitted under the September 2023 Fiscal Year 2024 Continuing Resolution, nearly doubling the congressionally mandated cap and bringing the total number of available H-2B visas for FY24 to 130,716.
The H-2B program allows employers to temporarily hire noncitizens to perform nonagricultural labor or services in the United States. The employment must be of a temporary nature, such as a one-time occurrence, seasonal need or intermittent need. Employers seeking H-2B workers must take a series of steps to test the U.S. labor market. They must obtain certification from DOL that there are not enough U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available to perform the temporary work for which they seek a prospective foreign worker, and that employing H-2B workers will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers. The H-2B visa expansion advances the Biden Administration’s pledge, under the Los Angeles Declaration for Migration and Protection, to expand lawful pathways as an alternative to irregular migration.
“The Department of Homeland Security is committed to maintaining strong economic growth and meeting the labor demand in the United States, while strengthening worker protections for U.S. and foreign workers,” Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement. “We are using the tools that we have available to bolster the resiliency of our industries and release the maximum number of additional H-2B visas for U.S. businesses to ensure they can plan for their peak season labor needs. We also continue to take steps to strengthen protections for workers and safeguard the integrity of the program from unscrupulous employers who would seek to exploit workers by paying substandard wages and maintaining unsafe work conditions. Our maximum use of the H-2B visa program also continues to build on our commitment to expand lawful pathways as an alternative to irregular migration, thereby cutting out the ruthless smugglers who prey on the vulnerable.”
The H-2B supplemental is expected to include an allocation of 20,000 visas to workers from Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti and Honduras. According to a statement from DHS, this country-specific allocation is part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to “build a safe, orderly and humane immigration system that includes expanding lawful pathways for immigration while strengthening consequences for those without a legal basis to remain in the United States.”
As a co-chair of the H-2B Workforce Coalition, the American Hotel & Lodging Association has been "aggressively" lobbying the Biden administration and Congress to expand the number of visas available through the H-2B visa program and provide cap relief for seasonal businesses. “The H-2B Workforce Coalition, which AHLA co-chairs, worked hard to convince the Biden Administration to offer this considerable expansion, which nearly doubles the yearly allocation of H-2B visas,” AHLA President & CEO Chip Rogers said. “These extra visas will be crucial to helping hotels and resorts in remote vacation destinations fill seasonal roles, and we thank Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas for making them available. But we still need help from Congress to get hoteliers across the country all the employees they need. That includes establishing an H-2B returning worker exemption, passing the Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act and passing the H-2 Improvements to Relieve Employers (HIRE) Act.”
In an email to AHLA members, Rogers wrote that the association “will continue urging Congress and the administration to make available even more H-2B visas in the future.”
As of September, the United States had 9.6 million job openings, but only 6.4 million unemployed people to fill them, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.