The Homeland Security Department announced Thursday it will make 35,000 additional visas available to foreign workers for summer seasonal jobs, thrilling summer resorts, seafood processors and landscaping businesses that say they struggle to find Americans willing to do that kind of work.
The increase follows a 20,000-visa increase the Biden administration granted for the winter season, meaning the number of workers could end up being nearly double the 66,000-person limit set in law.
But in recent years, Congress, unwilling to raise the cap itself, has outsourced that decision to DHS and the Labor Department. The Trump administration approved increases every year, though generally well below the levels the Biden administration is overseeing.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said his decision was “informed by current demand in the labor market.”
Known as the H-2B visa, the permits are available to seasonal non-agriculture workers.
Businesses ranging from Maryland’s crab-processing plants to seaside hotels to grass-cutting companies say they would have to curtail operations without foreign workers to do those jobs.
That, they argue, would mean Americans who manage the visa workers also would be out of jobs.
“This program is a win-win for the H-2B workers, for the American worker and for America’s small and seasonal businesses,” the Seasonal Employment Alliance said in a statement cheering the move.
But Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said the visas will undercut American workers, allowing businesses to pay lower wages to willing foreigners rather than offer higher pay to get Americans into those jobs.
“Just another day at the office for a secretary of Homeland Security who is dedicated to ensuring that there are no limits on immigration, and another blow to the people he is supposed to protect,” Mr. Stein said.
Of the 35,000 new visas, 11,500 will be earmarked for people from Haiti and three Central American nations that have accounted for a large portion of illegal border crossings over the last year.
Sens. Richard Durbin of Illinois and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, respectively, issued a joint statement disagreeing with the decision.
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“H-2B visa reforms are long overdue and we continue to oppose the expansion of this program unless it is accompanied by meaningful reforms,” they said.
The program has faced numerous allegations of fraud and abuse.
A Maryland seafood company owner last year admitted to getting H-2B workers to do certain low-paying jobs, but shifting them over to fill slots that, under the law, he should have been offering to Americans at higher wages.
Phillip J. “Jamie” Harrington III, who also admitted to hiring nearly 90 illegal immigrants, was sentenced to a year of probation.
Mr. Mayorkas, in announcing the visa increase, said his department will keep an eye on companies that have violated terms of the H-2B program in the past.