DHS announces one-time 15K increase of H-2B visa cap

The Department of Homeland Security announced Monday that it will increase the number of seasonal visas under the H-2B visa program by 15,000.

Current law allows for up to 66,000 foreign workers per year in temporary, nonagricultural jobs for businesses that can claim they are likely to suffer “irreparable harm” due to lack of qualified domestic workers.

In May, as businesses ate up the maximum 33,000 visas allowed through the first half of the year, Congress gave DHS the option to increase the overall cap. That paved the way for Monday’s decision, which DHS Secretary John Kelly called a “one-time” increase that would only apply to 2017.

“Congress gave me the discretionary authority to provide temporary relief to American businesses at risk of significant harm due to a lack of available seasonal workers,” said Kelly in a release announcing the move. “As a demonstration of the Administration’s commitment to supporting American businesses, DHS is providing this one-time increase to the congressionally set annual cap.”

Restricting immigration was a centerpiece of President Donald Trump’s campaign last year, but he has taken a more nuanced view when it comes to worker visas.

In April, Trump signed an executive order stating “it shall be the policy of the Executive Branch to buy American and hire American” and ordered a review of the H-1B visa program. The H-2B visa program, by contrast, is typically for more seasonal work and only covers the visa holder for a temporary period time, regardless of whether the need for the job itself is permanent.

In the same release unveiling the decision, DHS announced the creation of a new tip line to report employer violations and abuse of the H-2B visa program.

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