The H2B Visa Program Is Finally Getting Back on Track
Updated: May 23, 2022
The program has been almost impossible to utilize for several years. It's better now but remains too cumbersome for most employers.
One of the items discussed during the NH Good Roads Association’s workforce development roundtable was the H2B Visa Program. This program, which allows US employers to temporarily hire noncitizens to perform nonagricultural work in the United States, has been problematic for several years.
While the Trump-era moratorium on processing new visas was lifted soon after Biden took office in 2021, the program has faced numerous COVID-related challenges. These challenges mainly involve infection and vaccination rates in the home countries of prospective seasonal workers.
More Visas, Less Red Tape
The H2B Visa is a work visa that allows employers to hire nonagricultural workers to fill temporary job requirements. The initial stay for an employee with an H2B visa is one year. The visa is designed specifically for seasonal workers who return to their home country after the "work season" ends and then return the next season to work with the same employer.
The construction industry is one of the key sectors with the highest demand for temporary workers, along with landscaping firms, hotels and restaurants, large commercial stores, theme parks, ski resorts, and large specialized fairs or tradeshows.
On May 16, 2022, The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Labor announced that an additional 35,000 H2B temporary nonagricultural worker visas would be available to employers seeking to employ additional workers through September 30, 2022. This follows the January 27, 2022, announcement that had increased the number of H2B Visas available for the first half of the year by 20,000.
Congressman Chris Pappas (NH-01), Co-Chair of the bipartisan House Small Business Caucus and member of the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure, has advocated reforming the temporary worker process since taking office.
“While today’s announcement [making 35,000 H2B visas available] is welcome news, the steps we have seen from administrations over the last several years remain too small to help New Hampshire’s seasonal businesses overcome workforce challenges,” Pappas said in a press release from his office. “To properly address our workforce needs,” Pappas continued, “the Biden administration must take immediate action. This should include releasing more visas, streamlining the application process, retooling the lottery system used to allocate the visas, and fully reinstating the returning worker exemption. I will continue to fight for these changes.”
How to Participate
Employers interested in the program must provide certification from the Department of Labor, proving that there are not enough US workers qualified and available to do the job. Employers must also show that an H2B employee won't negatively affect US workers' wages or working conditions.
The employer (or US agent) must file Form I-129, Petition for A Nonimmigrant Worker, to get things started. It isn’t a straightforward process. Most employers work with a licensed attorney or a “Recognized Organization and Accredited Representative" to complete the process. In New Hampshire, four entities are available for assistance as a "Recognized Organization" by the Department of Justice: International Institute of New England, New Hampshire Catholic Charities – Manchester, New Hampshire Legal Assistance, and New Hampshire Catholic Charities – Nashua.
There are also several H2B Visa recruitment agencies that many employers use for their H2B Visa employment needs. The Work Abroad Network, LaborQuest USA, and FEWA (Federation of Employees and Workers of America) are all established recruitment agencies committed to helping businesses address labor shortages through the H2B Visa process.
— Workforce Development Committee
To learn more about the work of the Workforce Development Committee, contact the New Hampshire Good Roads office at firstname.lastname@example.org.