Homeland Security announced Tuesday that it will issue up to 22,000 additional guest-worker permits this year for foreigners to work in nonfarm seasonal jobs such as beach resorts and amusement parks.
Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas called the move a way to help businesses get back on their feet as they emerge from the pandemic, but critics say the guest workers will end up competing with Americans for jobs at a time when so many are already out of work.
The workers are part of the H-2B visa program, which landscaping and winter and summer resort businesses say they need to fill the seasonal jobs that Americans can’t, or won’t, do at the wages offered.
Congress has set a cap on the program of 66,000 annual passes, evenly divided between the summer and winter seasons.
But under pressure from businesses, and unable to reach agreement among its own members, Congress in recent years has offered the administration the power to raise the cap by another 65,000 or so visas each year.
The Trump administration raised the cap by 15,000 additional visas its first couple of years, and by 30,000 in 2019.
In 2020, Homeland Security signaled it would issue more visas again, but that was overturned by President Trump, who signed an executive order putting a number of immigration programs on hold amid the pandemic and surging unemployment.
The Cato Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank, said Tuesday that this year’s 22,000 increase seemed arbitrary. The Labor Department in January had already certified 96,000 job openings companies said they hadn’t been able to fill with American workers.
The Biden administration has reserved 6,000 of the newly expanded visas for key Central American countries that are seeing a major surge of their population attempting to cross the U.S. border illegally.
“The H-2B program is designed to help U.S. employers fill temporary seasonal jobs, while safeguarding the livelihoods of American workers,” Mr. Mayorkas said. “This supplemental increase also demonstrates DHS’s commitment to expanding lawful pathways for opportunity in the United States to individuals from the Northern Triangle.”
The visa program’s backers say the businesses that use it make substantial efforts to try and find American workers first.
The Seasonal Employment Alliance has been running a jobs bank with postings to recruit Americans to those slots, and runs ads online and in newspapers to draw attention to the openings. From Jan. 20 through April 19 the ads tallied more than 2 million views, and the jobs bank received more than 4,300 clicks. Nobody followed through to apply.
The SEA also surveyed its member companies and those who responded said they received 1,974 applications from American workers in March. Of those, 577 were interviewed, 156 showed up for work, but just 109 were still with the companies as of March 31.
Having the guest workers will now allow American companies to expand or continue operations — though only those lucky enough to win the lottery for the 22,000 spots, the SEA said.
“H-2B workers do not take American jobs, they create American jobs,” the alliance said.
Last year, several business owners who make use of H-2B visas told The Washington Times that they had contacted former U.S. employees about taking jobs. In many cases the individuals said they were doing better collecting unemployment benefits, which have been boosted during the pandemic, than they would have done going back to work.
But the Federation for American Immigration Reform called the visa increase a “kick in the teeth” to out-of-work Americans.
“This latest move erases all doubt that what this administration is pursuing is a radical effort to achieve unrestricted immigration — national security, public health and safety, and American workers be damned,” said Dan Stein, president of FAIR.