DHS expands guest-worker visas amid pandemic downturn

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Homeland Security announced Tuesday that it will issue up to 22,000 additional guest-worker permits this year for foreigners to work in non-farm seasonal jobs such as beach resorts and amusement parks. 

Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas called the move a way to help businesses get back on their feet as they emerge from the coronavirus pandemic. The critics say the guest workers will end up competing with Americans for jobs at a time when so many are already out of work. 

The workers are part of the H-2B visa program, which landscaping and winter and summer resort businesses say they need to provide seasonal work that Americans can’t, or won’t, do at the wages offered. 

Congress has set a cap on the program of 66,000 annual passes, evenly divided between the summer and winter seasons.

But under pressure from businesses, and unwilling to make a final decision on its own, Congress in recent years has offered the administration the power to raise the cap.

The Trump administration did so in each of its first years, albeit at a lower level than the Biden team is doing. During last year, as the pandemic was striking, President Trump canceled the increase as he suspended many other immigration programs. 

The Biden administration has reserved 6,000 of the newly expanded visas for key Central American countries that are seeing a major surge of their population attempting to jump the U.S. border illegally.

“The H-2B program is designed to help U.S. employers fill temporary seasonal jobs, while safeguarding the livelihoods of American workers,” Mr. Mayorkas said. “This supplemental increase also demonstrates DHS’s commitment to expanding lawful pathways for opportunity in the United States to individuals from the Northern Triangle.”

The visa program’s backers say that the businesses who use it make substantial efforts to try and find American workers first.

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