On March 31, 2022, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Labor (DOL) announced the forthcoming publication of a joint temporary final rule to make available an additional 35,000 H-2B temporary nonagricultural worker visas for the second half of fiscal year (FY) 2022. As explained in the announcement, these visas will be set aside for U.S. employers seeking to employ additional workers on or after April 1, 2022, through September 30, 2022.
This allocation comes after a January 2022 announcement from DHS and DOL that 20,000 additional H-2B temporary nonagricultural worker visas would be made available for the first half of FY 2022.
Background on H-2B
As explained by DHS, the H-2B visa program permits employers to temporarily hire noncitizens to perform nonagricultural labor or services in the United States for “a limited period of time, such as a one-time occurrence, seasonal or intermittent need.” In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, these visas and supplemental cap increases seek to address the “record job growth” and “reduced labor force participation” that threaten U.S. employers with “irreparable harm” should they not be able to employ additional workers.
In order to hire H2-B workers, employers must “take a series of steps to test the U.S. labor market,” to ensure that employing these prospective foreign workers would “not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers.” While myths exist about the program increasing labor competition for U.S. workers, the H-2B visa program significantly benefits all workers, both immigrant and American alike. The program provides stability for American workers whose year-round positions are reliant upon seasonal laborers during peak seasons. In fact, each H-2B worker is estimated to create and sustain 4.64 American jobs.
TCIA’s H-2B advocacy
The H-2B program has been critical in helping tree care companies meet labor demands during peak work seasons when American workers cannot be found. Accordingly, TCIA has long advocated for both expanding the number of H-2B visas and simplifying the application process to find H-2B visa workers – proposals that would make the program more accessible and predictable, giving TCIA member companies a more reliable source of workers during busy seasons.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to exacerbate labor shortages across the U.S. and has demonstrated that now, more than ever, the domestic labor market alone cannot meet the tree care industry’s workforce needs. The most recent employment data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) clearly demonstrates the shortage employers are facing – 11.2 million job openings, while unemployed workers only number six million. This supply-and-demand mismatch is why DOL received 7,875 H-2B applications requesting 136,555 worker positions for the second half of the 2022 fiscal year – more than four times the number of visas permitted under the statutory cap for this period. Given the unprecedented demand, the H-2B Workforce Coalition, of which TCIA is a member organization, sent letters to DHS Secretary Mayorkas and DOL Secretary Walsh urging DHS to release the maximum allowable number of additional H-2B visas for FY 2022, and DOL to allow employers to utilize emergency procedures for their applications to expedite processing times.
TCIA also began a grassroots effort urging DHS Secretary Mayorkas to release the more than 40,000 remaining visas allocated for FY 2022 by Congress. Combined with initiatives that shared resources to help individuals contact their representatives, urging their support for immigration and H-2B reform, TCIA’s efforts have helped ensure the tree care industry’s labor needs are communicated on Capitol Hill.
While expanding visa caps is a critical step in meeting the immediate workforce needs of the tree care industry, TCIA remains focused on finding a permanent solution to these perennial labor shortages. Efforts like H.R.3897, the H-2B Returning Worker Exception Act of 2021, would exempt from the 66,000 annual visa cap those workers who have been admitted to work in the U.S. on an H-2B visa during one of the past three fiscal years. The legislation also would require DOL, DHS and the Department of State to create a single online filing portal that would eliminate the need to express-mail paper documents. The legislation includes other program efficiency and integrity measures that would protect both American workers and H-2B workers alike.
As the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to burden the American economy and adversely affect countless U.S. businesses, TCIA remains committed to working with Congress, DHS and DOL to ensure that tree care businesses across the country find and maintain reliable employees through the H-2B visa program.
For updates on the H-2B visa program, please visit www.dhs.gov.
Lara Dunkelberg is a legislative assistant with Ulman Public Policy, TCIA’s Washington, D.C.-based advocacy and lobbying partner.
Want to know more about TCIA’s advocacy efforts? Visit advocacy.tcia.org.