18 July, 2017
The Department of Homeland Security announced Monday it would expand the number of temporary visas granted this year for workers in seasonal non-agricultural industries like tourism.
A federal law caps the number available at 66,000 a year nationwide, but Congress gave DHS the power to authorize more, after consulting with the Labor Department and determining that companies would be significantly harmed if they weren't able to bring in foreign workers for the season.
Many businesses and members of congress have pleaded with Kelly to issue the visas, citing an urgent need for workers.
"In a statement, DHS said Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly had consulted with Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta and determined there were not enough "qualified and willing USA workers" to fill the needs of businesses".
"Though we fear this gesture may be too little too late for thousands of small businesses ... the additional visas may help save some small businesses this year". The cancellation earlier this year of a provision that had exempted returning workers from being included in that cap had worsened the shortage.
The Trump administration will offer an extra 15,000 temporary, seasonal work visas this budget year.
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During a call with reporters, a senior DHS official said the additional visas "absolutely" fits in with Trump's campaign promise to put America first.
"A lot of the arguments for this kind of program boil down to this: No American worker will do that job". Some say the decision contradicts President Donald Trump's "Buy American, Hire American" agenda. "I've hired in Florida during the prime season - you could not get help", Trump said in 2015.
While President Trump has expressed his opposition to guest worker programs, he has made an exception for the H2B visa - one his Mar-a-Lago resort regularly applies for in order to supplement its staff. "From landscapers in Colorado to innkeepers in ME to seafood processors along the gulf coast to carnivals nationwide, we hope the visa expansion will help some businesses avoid substantial financial loss, and in some cases, prevent early business closures during their peak season".
But Daniel Costa, who directs immigration research at the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, said that the H2B program lacks enough enforcement to make sure American workers can benefit.
And while more visas may create a workforce boost, the damage - and its effect on other industries - may already be done.