On November 3, the Department of Homeland Security alongside the Department of Labor made the announcement that an additional 64,716 H-2B temporary nonagricultural visas would be made available for FY 2024, in addition to the already constituted 66,000 available annually. The H-2B program allows employers to hire foreign workers temporarily (one-time, seasonal or intermittent employment) for nonagricultural labor services in the U.S. The longest period of stay allowed on an H-2B is three years and those who stay for that length of time must leave the U.S., and stay out of the country for an uninterrupted period of three months before they can reseek admission on this visa.

Why the Increase?

A wide array of industries use the H-2B program to assist them in meeting consumer demands in their business. More specifically, these industries include tourism/hospitality, seafood processing, landscaping, and more seasonal work. The extra visa allotment is intended to meet the demand for seasonal or temporary labor, especially in regions where there is a shortage of available U.S. workers, thereby making a positive impact on the American economy. The expansion of H-2B visas aligns with the Biden Administration’s commitment, as outlined in the Los Angeles Declaration for Migration and Protection, to enhance legal immigration pathways as a viable option instead of irregular migration. With the announcement of this increase, the Departments hope to facilitate proactive planning for U.S. businesses with workforce requirements, permitting them to secure the seasonal and other temporary employees they require.

Safeguards for Domestic Workers

At the forefront of these initiatives is always the intent to safeguard domestic workers. Concurrently, DHS and DOL have implemented robust safeguards for both American and foreign workers including a mandate for employers to prioritize the recruitment of American workers for available positions, as stipulated by the visa program. Furthermore, they ensure that foreign workers are protected from exploitation by unscrupulous employers. Recently, both DHS and DOL have proposed regulations to fortify worker protections within the H-2A and H-2B visa programs. The White House-led H-2B Worker Protection Taskforce has issued a report outlining new initiatives to be undertaken by federal government agencies to enhance protections for vulnerable H-2B workers and similarly situated U.S. employees.

“The Department of Homeland Security is committed to maintaining strong economic growth and meeting the labor demand in the United States, while strengthening worker protections for U.S. and foreign workers,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas. “We are using the tools that we have available to bolster the resiliency of our industries and release the maximum number of additional H-2B visas for U.S. businesses to ensure they can plan for their peak season labor needs. We also continue to take steps to strengthen protections for workers and safeguard the integrity of the program from unscrupulous employers who would seek to exploit workers by paying substandard wages and maintaining unsafe work conditions. Our maximum use of the H-2B visa program also continues to build on our commitment to expand lawful pathways as an alternative to irregular migration, thereby cutting out the ruthless smugglers who prey on the vulnerable.”

What Countries Will Benefit?

The H-2B supplemental will include allocating 20,000 visas to workers from Columbia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti and Honduras. Aside from the 20,000 visas earmarked for specific countries, an additional 44,716 supplemental visas will be accessible to returning workers who had previously obtained H-2B visas or held H-2B status in one of the preceding three fiscal years. The proposed regulation intends to distribute these supplemental visas for returning workers across the first and second halves of the fiscal year, considering the varying demand for seasonal and temporary labor throughout the year. Moreover, a portion of the second-half allocation will be set aside to address the heightened demand for workers during the peak summer season. Have questions about how this impacts your current of future case? It’s best to schedule a consultation with one of our immigration experts to learn more.