Employers sought several thousand more seasonal foreign workers this spring than there are visas available, resulting in a lottery for the visas.
This is the first time USCIS has ever conducted a lottery for H-2B visas, USCIS spokeswoman Joanne Talbot told Bloomberg Law March 1. The lottery process has been used for H-1B high-skill visas, which have also seen high demand from businesses in recent years.
The visas, which are popular in the landscaping, amusement, and resort industries, have been growing in demand over time. With that demand now exceeding supply, it’s possible again this year that seasonal businesses could be short workers.
Last year’s shortage prompted Congress to direct the Homeland Security Department to increase the number of visas available for the rest of the spring and summer.
Employers Seeking 47,000 Workers
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services March 1 announced that employers submitted 2,700 petitions covering 47,000 H-2B workers during the first five business days petitions could be sent. Only 33,000 H-2B visas are available during the second half of fiscal year 2018, which begins April 1.
The agency conducted a lottery Feb. 28 to determine which petitions it will process, the USCIS said. All those that weren’t selected, as well as those received after Feb. 27, will be returned to employers.
H-2B workers currently in the U.S. who are seeking extensions of their visas don’t count against the cap and can continue to apply, the USCIS said. Fish roe processors, fish roe technicians, and supervisors of fish roe processing also don’t count against the cap, nor do H-2B workers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam.
The Labor Department earlier this year announced that it had received applications covering 81,600 H-2B workers on Jan. 1, signaling that a shortage of the visas was likely.
Following last year’s shortage, the DHS allowed an additional 15,000 visas for businesses that could demonstrate “irreparable harm” without them. The agency ultimately issued 12,294 visas under that extension.
Congress in prior years also has used government spending measures to enact a “returning worker” exemption. The exemption allows businesses to bring in H-2B workers and not have them count against the visa cap if those workers had come to the U.S. on an H-2B visa in at least one of the prior three fiscal years.
There hasn’t been any word yet this year on whether lawmakers will do so again this year.
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(Updated to include additional background information on H-2B visas.)