- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 5, 2020

Homeland Security announced Thursday that it will boost the H-2B seasonal guest worker program this year by adding 35,000 more visas, or more than 50% higher than Congress originally set.

The department insisted it’s coupling the increase with new anti-fraud measures, and also said it’s setting aside 10,000 of the guest-workers for migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, rewarding them for their help in stemming last year’s illegal immigration surge.

The H-2B program is supposed to be for seasonal non-farm workers — often winter ski resort employees, or summer landscaping workers — and companies that apply are supposed to prove that they tried to hire Americans first.

The program is capped at 66,000 visas, split between the summer and winter seasons, but Congress in each of the past few years has passed legislation giving the Homeland Security Department the power to double the size of the program.

In 2018 the department allowed 15,000 additional visas, and last year the cap was raised by 30,000.

The 2020 increase is the largest yet.

“This year’s supplemental allocation was determined after extensive consultation with stakeholders — including members of Congress and the Department of Labor — and is intended to strike a careful balance that benefits American businesses and American workers,” Homeland Security said in an unsigned statement announcing the change.

The increase comes just days after evidence of abuse in the program was revealed.

The Justice Department on Tuesday said it had won more than $90,000 in payments to workers who wanted jobs at a Houston bus company, but which went instead to H-2B visa holders.

Homeland Security said its new anti-abuse measures include trying to limit the additional visas to returning workers, who are believed to have shown good faith in following the law. Officials also promised to increase site visits to try to spot abuse.

In announcing the increase, the department blasted Congress for punting the decision.

Homeland Security said if Capitol Hill wants more visas, it should write a specific number into the law.

As it is, lawmakers shunt the decision off on the administration, then both sides — those that want an increase and those that oppose it — spend months lobbying for their point of view.

“Long term reforms need to be made by Congress to this program going forward,” the department said in its statement.

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