DHS Raises H-2B Cap by 35,000
By Preston Huennekens | FAIR Take | March 2020
As expected, acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) secretary Chad Wolf exercised authority Congress gave him and issued 35,000 additional H-2B visas for fiscal year 2020. This is a 5,000 visa increase compared to last year’s decision.
The H-2B visa program imports 66,000 nonskilled foreign laborers who work in low-skilled nonagricultural industries, mainly in landscaping, forestry, and housekeeping roles. These workers depress wages for low-skilled American workers who would otherwise find employment in these industries. Multiple studies show that employers pay H-2B workers far less than national averages for their occupations. Congress capped the H-2B program at 66,000 but since 2017 continues to give the DHS secretary the authority to raise the cap using supplements.
DHS previously increased the statutory cap for fiscal years 2017, 2018, and 2019. Legislative language gave acting secretary Wolf the authority to raise the cap by as much as 64,000. In February, reporting from the Wall Street Journal indicated that DHS was preparing to offer 45,000 visas to businesses. The walk-down to 35,000 is a small success, in large part driven by FAIR experts who lobbied the acting secretary to consider the damaging impact of releasing additional H-2B visas.
This year’s supplemental is different than those in the past. DHS is staggering the available start dates for these additional workers in hopes that large industries such as landscaping use the initial visas while leaving the later release for industries traditionally boxed out by the landscapers, such as Maryland’s crab pickers. 20,000 visas become available on April 1st and the remaining 15,000 become available on May 15th.
Most of the visas (25,000) will go to guestworkers who were a part of the program in the past, known as “returning workers.” The remaining 10,000 visa slots will go to new guestworkers from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. This carve-out for the Northern Triangle countries was an important negotiating tactic when DHS signed asylum agreements with the three countries to offer asylum protections to each other’s citizens before they could apply in the United States, amounting to de facto safe third country agreements. Those agreements are one of the primary reasons (along with the Migrant Protection Protocols) for the significant drop in border apprehensions since the height of the crisis in May 2019.
Further, DHS is directing the Department of Labor (DOL) to conduct more site visits throughout the year. This is a positive response to well-documented concerns of worker abuse and fraud by employers reliant on cheap foreign labor.