Just as President Donald Trump kicks off his “Made in America” theme week based on his promise to “hire American, buy American,” the federal government announced plans to rapidly increase the number of temporary foreign workers in the United States this year.
The federal government will immediately add 15,000 seasonal visas to fill temporary H-2B nonagricultural jobs for the remainder of the 2017 fiscal year, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agency officials told reporters on a press call Monday, beyond the annual cap of 66,000 visas allotted for this current fiscal year.
DHS officials said that this increase is a “one-time exemption” this year, explaining that some U.S. businesses are facing a dire labor shortage that could lead their companies to financial ruin.
Employers use H-2B visas to hire foreign workers to work in certain nonagricultural jobs when domestic workers can’t be found. For the government to grant these visas, employers must prove that they need immigrant workers after exhausting every option to recruit domestic workers. Specific U.S. Department of Labor requirements include posting advertisements on two separate days to hire domestically and soliciting the return of U.S. workers employed during the previous year.
H-2B visa holders remain lawfully employed anywhere between four and ten months. Their immigration status is also tied directly to their employment.
The additional release of visas — which will be made available for public inspection on Monday and put into the Federal Register later this week — will require employers to submit an attestation that their businesses will suffer “permanent, severe financial loss” if they cannot hire more foreign workers, senior DHS officials said.
Attestation petitions will be “adjudicated on a first in, first out basis,” based on evidence like profit loss statements, comparing present period of needs to prior years, and past and present financial conditions.
“This number is sufficient to satisfy those businesses who will suffer irreparable harm,” one senior DHS official said, explaining that the increase was derived from demand and the short time frame before the 2017 fiscal year ends in September.
The official also insisted the increase in foreign workers squarely fits into the president’s talking points to “hire American.”
“The Secretary first and foremost is committed to protect American workers and strengthening the integrity of the immigration system,” he added.
“We’re talking about American businesses at risk of suffering irreparable harm if they don’t get additional H-b workers so that fits into the ‘American workers’ first” mentality, another senior official said. “This does help with American businesses continuing to prosper.”
Requesting Congress to make this exemption and grant the discretionary authority to raise the annual H-2B visa cap within fiscal years is not rare. But a DHS official said such an increase usually takes place earlier in the fiscal year (October through December), not with less than two months to go.
The president may have some familiarity with the H-2B visa program. Between 2013 and 2015, President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago hotel hired 246 H-2B visa holders. A DHS official couldn’t comment on whether the Trump family would file petitions for additional H-2B visa workers this year.
H-2B visa holders are often subject to poor labor practices and exploitation in large part because their legal status in the country is tied to their employment.