The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that the agency has reached the cap on the on the total number of foreign nationals who may seek a visa or otherwise obtain H-2B status for the first half of fiscal year 2015. The H-2B visa program “allows U.S. employers to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary non-agricultural jobs.” Recently, USCIS announced that the Czech Republic, Denmark, Madagascar, Portugal, and Sweden have been added to the list of countries whose nationals are eligible to participate in the H-2A and H-2B visa programs for the coming year. There are 68 eligible countries that may participate in the H-2 visa programs.

Notably, in order to qualify under the program, the prospective work in the United States must be temporary, which is considered a one-time occurrence, seasonal, intermittent, or peakload. USCIS may grant H-2B classification for up to the period of time specified for the job, and H-2B classification may be extended for qualifying employment in increments of up to one year each, for a maximum of three years.

Cap Limit for H-2B Visa Applicants

Each year, there is a statutory numerical limit, which is set by Congress. This limit caps the number of total immigrants who may be issued a visa under the H-2B program. Currently, the H-2B cap is set at 66,000 per fiscal year, with 33,000 to be allocated for employment beginning in the first half to the fiscal year (1 October to 31 March) and the remaining to be issued in the second half (1 April to 30 September).

On 26 January 2015, the H-2B cap for the first half of the 2015 fiscal year was reached. Moving forward, any H-2B application that USCIS receives after 26 January 2015 and that requests an employment start date prior to 1 April 2015 will be rejected. Furthermore, there will be no cap numbers carried over to the second half of the fiscal year 2015, which begins 1 April 2015, because the cap has been reached.

Economic Impact of H-2B Workers

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce (a business federation representing companies, business associations, and state and local chambers in the U.S.) has published a report looking at the economic impact of the H-2B visa program. Many businesses in the United States rely on the H-2B visa program to sustain their businesses. Additionally, the program benefits states’ economies, including “seafood processing on Maryland’s eastern shore, restaurants and inns on Nantucket and ski resorts in Colorado, among other businesses.”

One major criticism of the program is that it takes jobs away from U.S. citizens or depresses the wages of U.S. workers. Importantly, the report found that the H-2B visa program does not adversely affect U.S. workers’ employment or earnings, and employers use to the program to fill jobs not being filled by U.S. workers. In fact, the report found that many U.S. businesses would go out of business if they could not use seasonal H-2B visa workers.

Based on its report, the Chamber believes that “Congress and the administration should be looking for ways to expand and improve temporary worker programs.” In particular, the Chamber believes that removing the annual cap of 66,000 is necessary. At the very least, if a cap is necessary, the Chamber believes the cap should be based on market forces, rising when the demand for H-2B workers increases, and shrinking when fewer workers are needed. In addition, the Chamber believes that it is important to streamline and simplify the program’s requirements to ease the burdens on employers.

Contact a San Antonio, Texas Immigration Attorney

If you have any questions regarding the H-2B visa program or any other immigration question, a Texas immigration attorney can help. The Lozano Law Firm, PLLC is a full-service immigration law firm with experienced San Antonio immigration lawyers who can help you and your family with all of your immigration needs. Contact an experienced Texas immigration attorney at the Lozano Law Firm, PLLC. Our firm has offices located in San Antonio and San Angelo.