Nielsen Likely to Expand Controversial Guest Worker Program
By RJ Hauman | April 12, 2018
The Trump administration is likely to expand the controversial H-2B visa program for the second straight year, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen indicated Wednesday.
As part of last month’s omnibus spending bill, Congress gave Nielsen and Labor Secretary Alex Acosta the power to more than double the number of H-2B visas issued this fiscal year. In the weeks since, powerful business interests and some lawmakers have been pressuring the administration, with some saying businesses are desperate for an influx of cheap foreign labor 2.
The lobbying effort seems to have paid off. “The intent is to make a decision soon so that those who can take advantage of the [H-2B] program are able to do that,” Nielsen told a House appropriations subcommittee, setting the stage for the betrayal of a key Trump campaign promise—protecting American workers from foreign competition.
The H-2B nonimmigrant visa program allows U.S. employers who meet specific regulatory requirements to bring low skilled foreign workers to the United States to fill temporary non-agricultural jobs. There is a cap on the total number of foreign workers who may be issued an H-2B visa or otherwise granted H-2B status during a fiscal year. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, Congress set the H-2B cap at 66,000 workers per fiscal year. However, the recent $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill gave Secretaries Nielsen and Acosta the authority to ignore this cap and increase the number of low skilled foreign workers admitted by “the highest number” of H-2B nonimmigrants who participated in the H-2B returning worker exemption.
As a reminder, in December 2015, House Speaker Paul Ryan snuck into the FY 2016 omnibus a provision that exempted from the H-2B cap all low skilled workers admitted between 2013 and 2015. There is no reliable data on the number of H-2B workers who took advantage of the returning worker exemption. It is possible that this provision will allow 66,000 additional cheap foreign workers to flood the labor market through the end of September—further suppressing blue-collar wages and taking away opportunities from Americans trying to get back into the labor force.
FAIR’s letter to Secretary Nielsen urging against an H-2B visa increase can be found here.