Fed to allow 15,000 more seasonal work visas

Tillis to lift hold on Cissna nomination for Immigration services director

Madeline Gray—North State Journal
Construction to improve the Cape Fear River waterfront in Wilmington. FILE (Madeline Gray / North State Journal)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. government is allowing 15,000 additional H-2B visas for temporary seasonal workers to help American businesses in danger of suffering “irreparable harm” because of a shortage of such labor, the Department of Homeland Security said on Monday.In a document submitted to the Federal Register, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly found after consulting with Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta that there were not enough qualified and willing American workers available to perform temporary nonagricultural work, the department said in a statement.

“As a demonstration of the administration’s commitment to supporting American businesses, DHS is providing this one-time increase to the congressionally set annual cap,” Kelly said in a statement.

Temporary workers at seasonal resorts, landscaping, seafood harvesting and processing are among those eligible, the government said. Previously the number of nonagriculture, low-skill H-2B visas had been capped at 66,000 new workers annually, 33,000 for each half of the fiscal year, plus retention of the workers who’ve received the seasonal visas for the last two years. However, that cap was reached on March 13 of this year.

Congress gave Kelly permission to authorize an additional 70,000 visas earlier this year, and he said in May he planned to grant at least some of them. However he also expressed concerns in public comments to the Senate Appropriations Committee over stagnant wages of blue-collar American workers and reports of H-2B visa workers being exploited.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) has been advocating for the release of the additional visas for months, saying that small businesses rely on the seasonal workers to keep their doors open. To push the issue, last week Tillis put a “hold” on the nomination of President Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director, Lee Francis Cissna, until action on more H-2B visas was taken. Under Senate rules a senator is allowed to place a hold on a bill or nominee to delay action.

Tillis’ office told North State Journal on Monday that after reviewing the new rules he plans to lift the hold on Cissna’s nomination.Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, a group that favors reduced immigration levels, said in a statement the decision “threatens to reverse the trend of reports emerging around the country of employers working harder and raising pay to successfully recruit more unemployed Americans for lower-skilled jobs.”Congress gave Kelly the authority to put around 70,000 more of those jobs out of the reach of Americans; at least Kelly limited the damage to keeping just 15,000 more Americans out of the labor market,” Beck added. “Nonetheless, this is yet another example of the administration and Congress failing to keep the Trump campaign promise of putting American workers first.”

For employers to qualify for the additional visas, DHS says “the petitioner must submit an attestation in which the petitioner affirms, under penalty of perjury … that if they do not receive all of the workers under the cap increase, they are likely to suffer irreparable harm, that is, permanent and severe financial loss.” The rules filing said they must attest that the loss could affect employment or wages of American citizens and other downstream impacts in their industry or community. They also must attest that the job “not adversely affect the wages or working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers.”

The rule says employers do not have to present evidence of the potential “irreparable harm” to their business, but must have it available if DHS or the Department of Labor investigates. DHS also said the government has also created a new tip line to report any abuse of the visas or employer violations.

North Carolina has the third-highest usage of H-2B visa workers in the nation behind Texas and Colorado, primarily because of tourism, landscaping and construction. Approximately 4,300 workers a year in N.C. are on an H-2B seasonal work visa, and Tillis’ office said he regularly hears from small employers across the state who say they still cannot find enough people to keep their business afloat.

“Moving forward, it’s important that the debate over H-2B is rooted in hard facts and the real-world experiences of small businesses owners doing everything they can make ends meet, not the misleading opinions of political pundits based in New York City and Washington who have never had to make payroll,” said Tillis.