Homeland Security will issue 15,000 additional seasonal guest-worker visas over the next few months, the department said Monday, delivering some relief to businesses who’d insisted they were starving for workers and desperate for foreigners to fill seasonal jobs such as landscaping and seafood processing.
The decision marks the first big test of President Trump’s campaign vow to put American workers first, and Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly’s decision, while giving businesses a limited victory, is far less than the potentially 70,000 workers corporate interests had hoped for.
In addition to a small number, Mr. Kelly is also imposing a strict test for those businesses that want to use the visas, requiring them not only to attest under penalty of law that they have searched for Americans and can’t find them, but that they would suffer severe and permanent financial losses if they can’t hire foreigners.
Homeland Security is also setting up a tip line for workers to report potential abuses.
Known as H-2B visas, the permits are aimed at seasonal nonagricultural work such as: summertime shore resorts, winter ski resorts, salmon-processing plants and crab-picking plants.
The visas are a microcosm of the larger immigration-labor debate. Businesses say they often cannot find Americans to do the jobs needed, while labor advocates say that’s because the businesses aren’t offering enough to entice Americans into those lines of work.
Administration officials insisted Mr. Kelly’s decision to offer a limited number of visas does meet Mr. Trump’s campaign promise of putting Americans first.
“We’re talking about American businesses that are at risk of suffering irreparable harm,” said David Lapan, press secretary for the department. “We do think that fits into the American-first focus of the administration.”
The law sets an annual cap of 66,000 H-2B visas, split in half between the winter season between October and March, and the summer season between April and September. The 15,000 new visas means there are 48,000 available in the summer season.
Congress in May had given Mr. Kelly power to more than double the annual H-2B cap, allowing perhaps 70,000 additional workers in — but left it to his discretion.
The secretary said he had to balance the needs of American workers with the complaints of businesses. He consulted with the Labor Department and came up with the 15,000 number.
While the visas last beyond Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, businesses only have until that deadline to obtain the extra help.
Mr. Lapan said they were trapped by the late action in Congress.
“It is late in the season but given the circumstances we’re working as hard as we can,” he said.
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