Additional H-2B visas have been “put on hold” and will “not be released until further notice,” the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced.
Deficits in H-2B visas have been an ongoing problem. These visas are used for temporary, seasonal and non-agricultural workers and are used extensively by the tourism, hospitality, landscape and construction industries. The legal limit on the number of H-2B visas available annually is 66,000: 33,000 for the spring / summer period (which begins on April 1 of each year) and another 33,000 for the winter season. Once the visas have expired based on Congress approval, the DHS may decide to provide more visas if it is determined that there are not enough willing, qualified and available US workers.
This year the 33,000 H-2B spring / summer cap was reached in mid-February. On March 5, 2020, the DHS announced that it would release another 35,000 visas, 10,000 of which are specifically reserved for nationals from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to work together to curb the influx of undocumented workers. Along with the additional visas came some reform measures, including:
- Increasing on-site visits to the Ministry of Labor employer; and
- Limit additional visas to returning workers with good records of immigration compliance.
At this point, the unemployment rate and the resulting entitlement to unemployment benefits were very low at around 4%. Now, given COVID-19, These claims explode. With approximately 10 million initial unemployment claims, the DHS reported that the promised additional H-2B visas to support US workers have been put on hold and will not be released “until further notice”. Applications for people who are exempt from the annual ceilings will continue to be processed. Current H-2B visa holders applying for renewals fall under these exceptions. It remains to be seen whether these H-2B employees will still be needed.
If you have any questions about the status of H-2B petitions or applications, Jackson Lewis lawyers are available to assist you.
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