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The H-2B Program in 2020
May 19, 2020
There are 66,000 H-2B visas a year available to US employers seeking foreign workers to fill seasonal nonfarm jobs, such as those in landscaping and gardening. Employers typically request over 100,000 H-2B visas, prompting Congress to authorize DHS to increase the number of visas available by 15,000 in FY17 and FY18 and by 30,000 in FY19.
For FY20, an additional 35,000 H-2B visas were available, but DHS withdrew these additional visas as unemployment spiked in March-April 2020. Employers protested that, while closed hotels and restaurants wanted fewer H-2B workers, landscapers and food-related sectors wanted more H-2B workers. DHS in May 2020 allowed food-related nonfarm employers to hire H-2B workers who completed one contract with another employer, potentially saving recruitment and transport costs.-2B visas
Employers apply to DOL for certification to employ H-2B workers, and they attach DOL’s certification to their petitions filed with DHS, which reviews them and forwards approved petitions to DOS so that consular officers abroad can issue visas to the foreigners that employers have hired.
Obtaining DOL certification is straightforward. Employers must demonstrate that US workers are not available to fill temporary nonfarm jobs lasting less than 10 months, and that the presence of the H-2B workers will not adversely affect US workers in similar jobs. DOL’s major check on employers is a review of their recruitment efforts while offering at least the prevailing wage for the job as determined by Occupational Employment Statistics.
Almost 9,500 employers submitted applications for over 194,000 H-2B workers to DOL in FY18, and DOL certified the need for H-2B workers to fill almost 148,000 jobs or 78 percent of employer requests. DOL regularly certifies two or three times more jobs to be filled by H-2B workers than there are visas available.
Over 45 percent of the certified jobs were in landscaping. Brightview Landscapes, with almost 3,400 certified jobs, had the most certifications. Brightview is a 20,000 employee firm based in Rockville, MD that was formed in 2014 when private equity firm KKR bought and merged Brickman Group and ValleyCrest Landscape. H-2B workers were a third of the employees of the landscaping firms interviewed by the GAO.
Of the 81,000 H-2B visas available in FY18, almost 40 percent went to support services (NAICS 56), including landscaping, and almost 15 percent each went to hospitality (NAICS 72) and entertainment (NAICS 71). Most employers in these three sectors were approved for 10 to 12 H-2B workers each, but 127 of the 3,700 employers who were approved for H-2B visas were approved for 100 or more.
An April 2020 GAO report in concluded that wages were higher and unemployment lower in counties with employers who hired H-2B workers. GAO interviewed 35 employers of H-2B workers, many of whom complained that their revenues were reduced because they did not receive all of the H-2B workers they requested. Seafood employers complained that they could not hire US workers due to the seasonality and difficulty of the work as well as its remote location. Over half of the workers at crab-picking firms interviewed by GAO were H-2B workers.
In FY19, DOL certified 7,400 employers to fill 150,500 jobs with H-2B workers. Landscaping accounted for 44 percent of the jobs certified, followed by forestry, eight percent, maids and housekeepers, seven percent, and meat and fish workers, six percent. Brightview was certified to fill almost 3,500 jobs with H-2B workers, followed by Imperial Pacific, a Chinese firm with a casino in Saipan certified to fill 2,600 jobs with H-2B workers, and Silver Bay Seafoods, a Sitka, Alaska seafood processor certified to fill 1,800 jobs with H-2B workers.
Employers seeking H-2B workers must be approved by DOL and DHS before DOS issues visas to the foreign workers they selected
DOL certified employers to fill 147,600 jobs with H-2B workers in FY18
Employer requests to DOL for certification to fill jobs with H-2B workers rose sharply in recent years
Almost 40 percent of H-2B visas in FY18 went to administrative support (landscaping)
127 of the 3,700 US employers certified for H-2B workers in FY18, 3 percent, were approved for 100 or more H-2B visas
H-2B workers were in 737 of the 3,142 US counties in FY18
DOL certified 150,000 jobs to be filled with H-2B workers in FY19, about the same as in FY18. Imperial Pacific is a Chinese firm that operates a casino in Saipan; Silver Bay Seafoods is based in Sitka, Alaska and has six fish-processing plants