On February 18, 2020, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reached the H-2B cap for the second half of fiscal year (FY) 2020. USCIS received significantly more petitions than there were H-2B visas available for the remainder of the fiscal year, requiring the agency to conduct a computer-generated lottery to select a sufficient number of H-2B petitions for adjudication. Upon completion of the lottery, USCIS assigned all selected petitions with a receipt date and began premium processing services, as applicable.
The H-2B visa program allows employers to bring foreign workers to the United States to provide temporary nonagricultural labor when there is a shortage of workers available in the United States. In order to participate in the H-2B program, an employer must demonstrate that it has a temporary need to supplement its staff based on a one-time, seasonal, intermittent, or peak-load need. Examples of positions that may be eligible for an H-2B visa include those as hotel staff, housekeepers, janitors, amusement park workers, landscapers, and warehouse workers, among others. H-2B visas are capped at 66,000 visas per fiscal year, with 33,000 available in the first half (October 1, 2019, through March 31, 2020) and the remaining 33,000 reserved for the second half (April 1, 2020, through September 30, 2020) of the fiscal year.
Given the high demand for H-2B visas in FY 2020, legislators requested in late January that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) release additional H-2B visas as it has done the last three years. In May 2019, the agency announced that it would issue up to 30,000 additional H-2B visas for the second half of FY 2019, and in July 2017, DHS allowed up to 15,000 more visas through the end of FY 2017. DHS is expected to make a decision soon. News reports have indicated that the Trump administration is considering lifting the cap by as many as 45,000 H-2B visas, which would be a significant increase over past years.
Ogletree Deakins’ Immigration Practice Group will continue to monitor developments with respect to the H-2B visa cap and will post updates on the Immigration blog as additional information becomes available.