The Trump administration announced on Monday that it is authorizing an additional 15,000 temporary work visas for foreign workers, after establishing that there are not enough “willing and qualified” workers in the US to perform seasonal, non-agricultural work in the fiscal year 2017.
The visas are of the H-2B type, which do not grant immigrant status. This type of visa is used to hire workers in the hospitality industry during high season, and to secure construction workers.
The announcement was made by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) after consulting with Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta. The release said that the visas are meant for American businesses that “will likely suffer irreparable harm without the ability to employ all the H-2B workers requested in their petition.”
This is not the first time that economic realities have resulted in ironic situations for an administration whose motto is ‘America First’
“Congress gave me the discretionary authority to provide temporary relief to American businesses at risk of significant harm due to a lack of available seasonal workers,” said DHS Secretary John Kelly, as quoted in the release. “As a demonstration of the Administration’s commitment to supporting American businesses, DHS is providing this one-time increase to the congressionally set annual cap.”
The DHS explains that Congress sets the annual H-2B cap at 66,000. A maximum of 33,000 H-2B visas are available during the first half of the fiscal year, from October through April, and the remainder, including any unused visas, is available starting April 1 through September 30. On March 13, 2017, the government had already received sufficient H-2B petitions to meet the full cap of 66,000.
The Washington Post reported that more than 120,000 petitions had been filed by American businesses this year.
The decision appears to contradict the official rhetoric of an administration that has blamed migrant workers for all of the country’s economic woes, in a message that seems to have resonated with the impoverished middle classes. The president has promised to investigate all visa programs that he feels may be harming American workers.
But this is not the first time that economic realities result in ironic situations for an administration whose motto is “America First.” Last March, managers of the vineyards owned by one of the president’s sons, Eric Trump, requested visas for 29 foreign workers.
Hotels and real estate developers are now getting relief from a president whose main business interests are in hotels and real estate development. Other sectors of the US economy have not been so lucky. Soon after his inauguration, Trump put a six-month freeze on the H1-B express visa program, which Silicon Valley uses to hire highly specialized workers in the fields of computing, medicine, engineering and mathematics. A procedure that once took two weeks can now drag on for eight months. No figures are available on the number of Americans who have been hired in Silicon Valley as a result of this decision.
English version by Susana Urra.