Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, on Thursday criticized a decision by the Biden administration to increase the number of available H-2B seasonal worker visas, citing long-standing concerns
The Biden administration announced earlier this week that it is increasing the number of available H-2B visas available, which gives temporary legal status to non-agricultural seasonal workers in service jobs such as restaurants and hotels. The number of visas is capped at 66,000 by Congress but can be raised, and frequently is raised by both Republican and Democratic administrations.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said it will increase the visa number by 22,000 and will reserve 6,000 for nationals from Northern Triangle countries — Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala — in line with an executive order signed by President Biden earlier this year designed to restore orderly migration at the southern border.
But the H-2B has critics from both sides of the aisle, who argue it is rife with abuse and fraud — allowing companies to bring in cheap labor and exploit immigrant workers.
“We’ve long expressed concerns that perverse incentives created by the H-2B program encourage lower wages and poor working conditions for American and immigrant guest workers alike,” Durbin and Grassley said in a statement.
They also cited current economic conditions in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Given that U.S. unemployment remains elevated in many H-2B-reliant industries, this is no time to release additional H-2B visas,” their statement says. “We hope that the Biden administration will work with Congress to reform this program to ensure it better serves Americans and guest workers,”
The senators were also critical of past moves to increase the number of visas. The Trump administration initially raised the cap by 35,000 last year but later stopped it due to the pandemic after raising it 30,000 in 2019. The Trump administration had blocked off 10,000 visas for Central American workers last year.
Those who call for an increase in workers say that the program is vital to getting summer businesses the employees they need. DHS said employers reported critical vacancies and expressed a need for more guest workers.
“The H-2B program is designed to help U.S. employers fill temporary seasonal jobs, while safeguarding the livelihoods of American workers,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement. “This supplemental increase also demonstrates DHS’s commitment to expanding lawful pathways for opportunity in the United States to individuals from the Northern Triangle.”