Just two days into Donald Trump’s ‘Made in America’-themed week in Washington, the Department of Homeland Security announced it would issue an additional 15,000 visas to foreign workers.
Despite working tirelessly to curb legal and illegal immigration to the United States, the administration’s decision to offer an excess of H-2B visas was apparently made out of necessity.
Each year, approximately 66,000 foreign workers are hired by American businesses making use of the H-2B visa program.
Under the program, companies across the country can import temporary, non-agricultural labor from overseas. The visas are intended to help businesses like restaurants and hotels fill positions for which they’re unable to find American employees.
Changes to H-2B visa protocol led to all available spots being filled by last March.
In the past, businesses hiring returning workers didn’t have to pay heed to the annual cap.
Last fall, Congress failed to renew the exemption, forcing businesses which rely on H-2B help to compete against one another for workers.
The determination to close the loophole has hurt some businesses, with managers and owners complaining of being short-staffed and thus unable to keep up with increased demand.
PRI.org reported on a handful of businesses in Massachusetts which found themselves practically besieged by customers in the busy summer season.
“We aren’t opening for lunch at the moment,” said Sarah Nixon of the Home Port restaurant in Martha’s Vineyard. “We’re closing two days a week for dinner. I’ve never had to do that before.”
Nixon wasn’t able to open time for the season either, having to put off the yearly operational launch by four weeks.
Another nearby restaurant, Nancy’s, which takes in cooks and cleaning staff from Jamaica and across the Caribbean, found itself in a similar situation.
Ten workers were missing in 2017 from previous years, the brunt of whom are H-2B laborers who had been working in Massachusetts for years.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said the department’s decision to issue additional visas was designed to help similarly struggling U.S. businesses.
“Congress have me the discretionary authority to provide temporary relief to American businesses at risk of significant harm due to a lack of available seasonal workers,” he said in a statement. “As a demonstration of the Administration’s commitment to supporting American businesses, DHS is providing this one-time increase to the congressionally-set seasonal cap.”
The decision seems somewhat at odds with an executive order issued by President Trump in April, which codified his “Buy American, Hire American” pledge.
The executive order took aim at another group of workers frequently criticized by the president – H-1B visa seekers, who enter the United States under a ‘skilled worker’ classification. Most recipients of H-1B visas are from India, hired to working in the tech and engineering industries.
The H-1B program drew ire from the Trump administration due to allegedly corrupt practices, in which relatively low-skill workers would be brought to the United States in exchange for salaries lower than those of their American counterparts.