After another summer of staffing challenges for Nantucket businesses, there could be reason for optimism next year as the federal government announced last week that it was adding nearly 65,000 new H-2B visas for temporary workers.
The move by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Labor (DOL) comes earlier than previous announcements regarding visa allotments, and nearly doubles the 66,000 H-2B visas that are normally available each fiscal year.
The additional visas come with the creation of a new White House-convened "Worker Protection Taskforce" to help ensure foreign workers "are not exploited by unscrupulous employers."
Many Nantucket businesses rely on the temporary worker program, but the volatility of the lottery and the changing number of visas approved in recent years has created uncertainty for those employers.
The federal H-2B program allows business to hire non-citizens on a temporary basis to fill non-agricultural jobs in the U.S. It is limited to employment for one-time, seasonal, or intermittent positions. Employers have to certify that there are not enough “able, willing, qualified and available” workers to do the temporary work they require in order to become eligible for the program.
“The Department of Homeland Security is moving with unprecedented speed to meet the needs of American businesses,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas. “At a time of record job growth, this full year allocation at the very outset of the fiscal year will ensure that businesses can plan for their peak season labor needs. We also will bolster worker protections to safeguard the integrity of the program from unscrupulous employers who would seek to exploit the workers by paying substandard wages and maintaining unsafe work conditions.”
A portion of the additional H-2B visas includes - 20,000 of the new 64,716 visas - will be specifically dedicated to workers from Haiti and the Central American countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. The remaining 44,716 supplemental visas will be available to returning workers who received an H-2B visa, or were otherwise granted H-2B status, during one of the last three fiscal years.
"This advances the Biden Administration’s pledge, under the Los Angeles Declaration for Migration and Protection, to expand legal pathways as an alternative to irregular migration," DHS stated in its announcement. "This is also consistent with the joint commitment President Biden and President López Obrador of Mexico made in July to work together to broaden opportunities for seasonal and circular labor and ensure that migration is a choice and not a necessity. This is one of many ways that the United States and Mexico are partnering to manage migration and fuel economic growth, as discussed in the bilateral working group on labor mobility."
The new Worker Protection Taskforce that was announced last week will focus on "workers’ fundamental vulnerabilities" including their limited ability to leave abusive employment situations without jeopardizing their immigration status, and the use of the program by employers to avoid hiring U.S. workers.