Politics

DHS Authorizes 15,000 Extra Guest Worker Visas

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter

The Trump administration announced Friday that it will make an additional 15,000 visas available to businesses seeking to bring in low-skilled, foreign labor through a contentious guest worker program.

So-called H-2B visas are limited by statute to 66,000 per year, and business groups regularly complain the limit is too low to make up for a supposed shortage of available U.S. workers, forcing them to scale back operations or raise wages to attract applicants.

Congress did not lift the cap during budget negotiations earlier this year. Instead, lawmakers quietly tucked a provision into the omnibus spending bill that gives the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the authority to roughly double the number of H-2B visas if there is a “sufficient need.” (RELATED: GOP Lawmakers Tuck Expansion Of Guest Worker Visas Into Spending Bill)

In announcing the additional visas, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen criticized lawmakers for offloading the politically sensitive decision of setting H-2B caps on the Trump administration.

“We are once again in a situation where Congress has passed the buck and turned a decision over to DHS that would be better situated with Congress, who knows the needs of the program,” she said in a statement.

Created in 1986, the H-2B visa program allows U.S. companies to bring in foreign labor for work in seasonally dependent industries such as landscaping, forestry, seafood processing, and tourism. The program has come under closer scrutiny under President Donald Trump, who has taken a more skeptical view of guest worker programs than typical Republican administrations.

Immigration restrictionist groups such as NumbersUSA and the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which have seen many of their ideas championed by the president, argue the H-2B program displaces native-born workers and drives down wages for young and low-skilled employees.

“This decision flies in the face of other Administration efforts to allow a tightening labor market to pressure employers to raise wages and to recruit from the around 45 million working-age Americans that government data show don’t have a job,” NumbersUSA President Roy Beck said in a statement Friday.

“There are plenty of work visas in the existing program for legitimate emergencies,” he added.

Leading up to Friday’s announcement, Nielsen had already told lawmakers that she intended to grant an additional 15,000 visas, so the decision was widely expected. The visas will be awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis after the regulation providing for the extra visas is published in the Federal Register next week, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Last year, then-DHS Secretary John Kelly made a similar decision after Congress also granted him the authority to unilaterally raise the H2-B cap. Kelly authorized an additional 15,000 visas, but characterized it as a one-time move.

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