189 Legislators Call on DHS to Double Number of H-2B Visas
By Preston Huennekens | FAIR Take | January 2020
A group of 38 senators and 151 representatives sent a letter to acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Chad Wolf requesting that he release 64,716 additional H-2B visas.
Language in the fiscal 2020 appropriations package for DHS permits the secretary to temporarily raise the H-2B cap, nearly doubling it. The H-2B program brings over low-skilled workers for employment in non-agricultural positions, mostly in landscaping, forestry, and custodial services. There is a statutory cap of 66,000 per year, yet since 2017 similar spending bills allowed the secretary to raise the cap by 15,000 to 30,000.
Earlier this month, FAIR president Dan Stein wrote to acting secretary Wolf encouraging him to not issue any additional H-2B visas. In that letter, Stein wrote that,
We urge you to remember that Congress capped the H-2B program for a reason, and your discretion should be rigorously defended as grounded in actual labor force needs. If Congress desired to raise the cap, lawmakers could pass appropriate legislation doing so. These matters do not belong in spending bills.
Contrast that with the letter sent by the lawmakers. Addressing acting secretary Wolf, they wrote:
Without immediate and meaningful H-2B cap relief, seasonal businesses will be forced to scale back operations, cancel or default on contracts, lay off full-time U.S. workers and, in some cases, close operations completely. By taking quick action to release additional H-2B visas, seasonal businesses and U.S. workers across the country will avoid these harmful consequences, and instead, help contribute to the American economy.
While this may seem to be a sensible and even sympathetic argument, it is not one grounded in reality. Research shows that employers pay H-2B significantly less than American workers in the same jobs. States with high numbers of H-2B workers, primarily Texas and Florida, have workforce participation rates lower than the U.S. average. This contradicts the argument used by businesses that they “cannot find any workers.”
Further, investigations by the media and advocacy groups unearthed the disappointing truth that employers often abuse and exploit their H-2B workers, who are working in a foreign country and whose legal status is completely dependent on their employer.
Rather than reforming or modernizing the H-2B visa system, Congress is asking for its expansion. FAIR continues to call on acting secretary Wolf to refuse to release these additional visas and challenge Congress to repair this broken visa program.