Despite demands from employers, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) stopped accepting applications for H-2B low-skilled guest worker visas on Sept. 15. Congress authorized DHS to issue approximately 70,000 additional H-2B visas above the annual cap of 66,000 earlier this year. At the time, Sec. Kelly announced that he would issue only 15,000, but USCIS had only received 13,534 applications as of Sept. 15.
Under the guidelines for the additional visas established by Kelly, businesses had to demonstrate that they "would likely suffer irreparable harm" if they were not able to hire additional H-2B workers. Employers were also required to recruit American workers before submitting an application.
The H-2B visa is a guest worker visa issued to foreign workers for jobs that are seasonal or temporary in nature. The visa work period is one year, but can be extended, at the employer's request, for up to three years. The annual limit on H-2B visas is 66,000 with 33,000 visas issued at the beginning of the year, and the remaining 33,000 issued at the mid-point of the year.
In 2016, Congress exempted returning workers from the H-2B visa cap -- a move that could have potentially quadrupled the number of H-2B visas issued during the year. Congress failed to renew the provision in continuing resolutions passed on September and December of 2016, but they authorized DHS to raise the cap by approximately 70,000 in a funding bill passed earlier this year.
H-2B visas are most widely used by landscaping companies, the hospitality industry, meat and seafood processors, and other service industries. Research from both the Economic Policy Institute and the Center for Immigration Studies have shown that there is no evidence of a labor shortage in the industries that rely on H-2B visas the most.
For more, see the release from USCIS.
Updated: Wed, Oct 4th 2017 @ 9:30am EDT