The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Department of Labor (DOL) announced an additional allocation of 64,716 H-2B visas for Fiscal Year 2024, nearly doubling the standard annual cap of 66,000. This increase aims to support American businesses in sectors like hospitality, tourism, landscaping, and seafood processing, where there’s a high demand for seasonal and temporary workers.
The supplemental visas include 20,000 for workers from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti, Colombia, Ecuador, and Costa Rica as part of efforts to create lawful migration pathways. The remaining visas are for returning workers who had H-2B status in the past three years. The allocation is divided across the fiscal year to meet varying seasonal demands. DHS and DOL emphasize protecting both U.S. and foreign workers, ensuring the recruitment of U.S. workers first and safeguarding foreign workers’ rights. Petitions for these visas must be filed at the USCIS Texas Service Center.
How Do H-2B Visas Work?
The H-2B program is designed to help U.S. employers facing labor shortages in specific nonagricultural fields by allowing them to hire foreign workers for temporary periods.H-2B employment is by nature short-term, which may include roles that are seasonal, intermittent, for a one-time occurrence, or a peak-load need.
The maximum period for H-2B status is three years. After this, individuals must leave the U.S. for at least three months before they can apply again for H-2B status.
To be certified to sponsor someone for an H-2B visa, employers must first prove that there are insufficient U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available for temporary work. They must also show that employing H-2B workers won’t adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similar U.S. workers.
The application process is otherwise similar to other employment visas. Employers file a petition on behalf of the worker(s) they wish to employ. This includes obtaining a temporary labor certification from the Department of Labor and then submitting Form I-129 to USCIS.
There’s an annual cap on the number of H-2B visas issued, although certain exemptions and additional allocations can apply, as seen with the recent increase for FY 2024.
How the H-2B Visa Program Benefits People Seeking to Enter the US
The H-2B visa program provides a lawful option for individuals seeking to enter the United States for temporary nonagricultural work. It enables them to:
- Legally Work in the U.S.: H-2B visas grant the holder the right to live and work in the U.S. for a specific employer in a designated job for a limited period.
- Pathway for Seasonal Workers: It’s particularly beneficial for workers from countries with fewer immigration options, offering a legal route for seasonal employment.
- Temporary Residency: While H-2B visas do not lead directly to permanent residency, they offer a lawful means for temporary residence and employment, contributing to personal and professional development.
- Dual-Intent: A recipient of an H-2B visa may also apply for permanent residency at the same time. This means that the H-2B program can permit people to enter the US legally and begin building their lives in the country while waiting for their priority date to become current if they are being sponsored for immigration by a family member.
By providing a regulated, legal means for foreign nationals to work in the U.S., the H-2B program helps mitigate illegal immigration and ensures protection and rights for the workers under U.S. labor laws.
Should You Consider an H-2B Visa?
The H-2B visa is useful, but it isn’t for everyone. It is best suited for people looking for temporary, nonagricultural employment in the U.S., such as in hospitality, tourism, landscaping, or seafood processing. People with in-demand skills and degrees and who are seeking permanent employment should consider H-1B visas instead.
In addition, this year, the H-2B program is particularly appealing to people from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti, Colombia, Ecuador, and Costa Rica due to the country-specific allocation offered by USCIS. This is currently the quickest and most effective way for nationals from these countries to enter the US legally.
Prepare for H-2B Immigration With Litwin & Smith
The cap increase on the H-2B program is temporary. If you’re interested in pursuing one of these visas yourself or for a prospective employee, the professionals at Litwin & Smith can help. We encourage you to schedule your consultation with our employment immigration attorneys today to learn how we can assist you with your H-2B sponsorship and application.