Hours after the Trump White House announced “Made in America” week, the Department of Homeland Security announced the release of an additional 15,000 H-2B visas for temporary non-agricultural workers.
The move is intended to avert “irreparable harm” to businesses facing manpower shortages, according to Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly. Today’s release is still below the 33,000 H-2B visas authorized by Congress for the remainder of the fiscal year, but it comes at a difficult time for the administration, as it finds itself attempting to strike a balance between business interests clamoring to fill low-skilled positions and those on the political right who fear that such moves do naught but erode wages and threaten American culture.
The DHS press release went on to say that it received enough visa applications in mid-March to fill out the year’s quota. However, even if the entire allotment authorized for the year were released, Department of Labor Statistics numbers indicate that it would only fill half the positions requested by American employers. The seafood industry is among the top sectors requesting seasonal help, followed closely by the landscaping and tourism industries.
The move was welcomed by employers in those industries. The H-2B Workforce Coalition gave voice to the sector, welcoming the “minimal relief” granted them by the Federal government.
While this move provides some relief for seasonal industries, it comes at the cost of withering criticism from those who initially helped propel Trump to victory last November. NumbersUSA president and founder Roy Beck issued a scathing rebuke of the administration for failing to follow through on promises made on last year’s campaign trail.
“Sec. Kelly’s decision to increase H-2B foreign workers threatens to reverse the trend of reports emerging around the country of employers working harder and raising pay to successfully recruit more unemployed Americans for lower-skilled jobs. Congress gave Kelly the authority to put around 70,000 more of those jobs out of the reach of Americans; at least Kelly limited the damage to keeping just 15,000 more Americans out of the labor market. Nonetheless, this is yet another example of the Administration and Congress failing to keep the Trump campaign promise of putting American workers first.”
Criticism from Congress was bipartisan in nature, exemplified by a joint reproach from Iowa’s Senator Chuck Grassley (R) and Senator Dick Durbin (D) of Illinois.
“While there may be legitimate needs among employers who rely on H-2B workers in certain sectors of the economy, a growing body of evidence shows that our increasing reliance on the H-2B visa program hurts wages for American workers, and puts their jobs at risk. New research suggests that wages in some H-2B fields have been stagnant for years. The Administration’s decision to increase the number of H-2B visas will only exacerbate this problem.”
In addition, the timing of the move opens the administration to criticism as well. Monday marks the start of “Made in America” week, kicked off by an event at the White House featuring goods made in each of the 50 states and including remarks by the president previewing deals his administration is negotiating aimed at improving the lot of the American manufacturing sector.
According to DHS, eligible petitioners may begin filling out the appropriate forms this week. The department promises to release further specifics, including a tip line for reporting instances of suspected fraud, in the near future.
[Featured image by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]