H-2B visas are issued to temporary, or seasonal, low-skill workers. The annual cap on H-2B visas is 66,000. This cap was hit in the first quarter of FY 2004 and 2005. Almost immediately, the restaurant, tourism/resort, construction, and other similar industries began lobbying for an increase in the cap. Members of Congress are currently under heavy pressure from the restaurant, tourism/resort, construction and other similar industries to increase in the annual H-2B cap.
Some members of Congress have introduced legislation that would allocate H-2B visas throughout the year, rather than making them all available for use in the first quarter of every year. Timing the issuance of H-2B visas is a common-sense approach that would help prevent the situation that occurred in FY 2004 and FY2005 when the 66,000 annual cap on H-2B visas was hit. However, all of the bills currently before Congress would also result in creating exemptions which potentially could triple the number of H-2B workers in the U.S. at any given time.
For instance, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), has introduced S. 278 to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to limit the timing of issuance of H-2B visas during a fiscal year. Specifically, S. 278 would divide the issuance of H-2B visas throughout the year so that at least 12,000 visas are made available each quarter of each fiscal year. HOWEVER, S. 278 exempts from the annual cap aliens granted an H-2B visa within three years prior to approval of an H-2B petition, thus potentially TRIPLING the number of H-2B workers in the U.S. at any one time. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), has introduced S. 352 to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to limit the timing of issuance of H-2B visas during a fiscal year. Specifically, S. 352 would split the H-2B visa cap so no more than 33,000 visas are made available for the first six months the fiscal year, and another 33,000 visas would be available in the second half of the year. HOWEVER, S. 352 also exempts from the annual cap aliens granted an H-2B visa within three years prior to approval of an H-2B petition, thus potentially TRIPLING the number of H-2B workers in the United States at any one time. Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) has introduced H.R. 793, a companion bill to S. 352.
Increasing the number of H-2B workers in the U.S. at any given time may most profoundly affect teenagers looking for summer work. According to a study out of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, the percentage of 16-to 19-year-olds holding jobs in the United States is the lowest it has been since the government began tracking statistics in 1948. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the rolls of millions of unemployed Americans include a disproportionate number of workers who do not have a high school diploma. Official unemployment rates for Americans without a diploma are nearly twice as high as for other Americans.
In light of this, it is clear that increasing the number of low-skill, seasonal, foreign workers (H-2B workers) will most profoundly harm our most vulnerable workers.
•14 million Americans are unable to find full-time jobs in the current economy. [Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)]
• Real wages in the U.S. are falling at their fastest rate in 14 years. Financial Times, May 10, 2005)
• The unemployment rate among the 12 million American adults who do not have a high school diploma is almost 9 percent. (BLS)
• Forty percent of working-age African-American men are unemployed. (BLS)
Jobs Americans Won’t Do?
• 79 percent of the 23 million workers in service jobs are native-born Americans.
• 81 percent of the 6 million workers in construction jobs are native-born Americans.
• 77 percent of the 10 million workers in production jobs are native-born Americans.