Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly has decided to issue a “limited number” of seasonal guest worker visas, the department announced Wednesday, though they still don’t have a total and won’t begin to issue them until late July.
The move offers a small amount of relief to seasonal businesses such as landscapers, summer resorts and seafood processors who have come to rely on foreign workers and who say they will be devastated without them.
But the department said the authority granted by Congress came so late that it’s likely the number they issue will be relatively small, and probably far less than the approximately 70,000 visas Mr. Kelly could issue.
“We’re doing the best we can given the short time frame,” department spokesman Dave Lapan said.
Under the law 66,000 seasonal worker visas, divided in half between the winter and summer seasons, are supposed to be available for companies that cannot meet their workforce needs with Americans.
Congress has on occasion boosted the number of visas under what’s known as the H-2B program, including in the spending bill that passed in May, which could have more than doubled the number of visas issued this fiscal year.
But lawmakers left the final decision to Mr. Kelly, who has criticized Congress for passing the buck.
He is now working with the Labor Department to come up with the exact number of visas his department can issue, and that are truly needed. Mr. Lapan said the visas will go to businesses where the lack of the foreign workers would hurt American workers who rely on them.
“He’s committed to using this discretion that congress gave to go above the 66,000 cap. What that number will be remains to be determined,” Mr. Lapan said.