Businesses are getting whipped by the Biden administration’s regulatory juggernaut, but here’s one regulation they can applaud: The Department of Homeland Security is exercising its discretion to issue an additional 20,000 H-2B visas for seasonal workers in coming months.
The Immigration and Nationality Act caps H-2B visas at 66,000 per fiscal year, split equally between the first and second halves. But DHS may issue additional visas if it determines, after consultation with the Labor Department, that employers cannot fill seasonal positions with qualified, voluntary U.S. workers.
Proponents of restricting immigration say employers could attract more American workers if they raise wages, but they need to get out of their think tanks and talk to employers. Few Americans are willing to relocate every few months for physically demanding seasonal jobs such as shucking oysters on the Gulf Coast or cleaning rooms at ski resorts in the Rockies, no matter how much a person pays. employers. So, year after year, employers rely on the H-2B program.
Demand for visas exceeded the ceiling even before the pandemic, but the mismatch has widened as millions of American workers have left the labor force, thanks to generous social benefits. As of Dec. 1, the Labor Department has certified that employers need 65,717 H-2B workers for the first half of fiscal year 2022. Last month, the administration said it had received 136,555 visa applications. employers from April to September, i.e. four times the ceiling.
Visas are usually randomly assigned, so bad luck for employers who don’t win the lottery. Employers who cannot find workers must scale back their operations or even close. American workers then become collateral damage, as a new study by the National Foundation for American Policy shows.
H-2B visas dropped by nearly half in fiscal year 2020 due to government pandemic restrictions. But with millions of Americans losing their jobs during the shutdowns, one might have expected employers who typically hire foreign workers on H-2Bs to hire more Americans.
The opposite happened. Economists looked at employment trends in labor markets based on their reliance on the H-2B program, taking state and industry into account. They found that unemployment rates were significantly higher in labor markets where employers traditionally relied more on the H-2B program. When fewer H-2B visas are issued, American workers also have fewer job opportunities.
Americans are also paying for labor shortages with supply shortages and higher prices. Wondering why hotels don’t change sheets daily anymore? They cannot find enough workers, nationals or foreigners. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of able-bodied, job-hungry foreign migrants flood the southern border.
Congress made a half-hearted effort to address the H-2B visa shortage in the December spending bill by allowing DHS to lift the annual cap of 66,000. DHS’ decision to issue an additional 20,000 visas , including 6,500 specifically allocated to workers from the Northern Triangle countries and Haiti, is a good start, but not enough.
Rather than compromise to solve the country’s twin immigrant crises — too many illegal migrants and not enough legal foreign workers — Congress continues to go after the executive branch. He doesn’t want to do hard work either.
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Appeared in the February 8, 2022 print edition.