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DHS Bumps Up Cap on H-2B Visas for Lack of 'Sufficient, Qualified, U.S. Workers'

 Kirstjen Nielsen at homeland security hearing

WASHINGTON -- The Department of Homeland Security today announced that an additional 15,000 H-2B visas for temporary nonagricultural workers will be available for Fiscal Year 2018, in addition to the 66,000 visas already issued this year.

DHS said Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen approved the visas after consulting with Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, lawmakers and business owners and determining "there are not sufficient, qualified, U.S. workers available to perform temporary non-agriculture labor to satisfy the needs of American businesses."

Last July, then-DHS Secretary John Kelly similarly announced 15,000 more H-2B visas above the 66,000 annual cap for businesses able to prove they'd suffer "irreparable" financial harm without the immigrant labor.

Industries including fishing and tourism had lobbied for more low-wage, seasonal immigrant labor, saying they didn't have enough maids, dishwashers, and other low-skilled employees for the summer.

“The limitations on H-2B visas were originally meant to protect American workers, but when we enter a situation where the program unintentionally harms American businesses it needs to be reformed,” Nielsen said today. “I call on Congress to pass much-needed reforms of the program and to expressly set the number of H-2B visas in statute. We are once again in a situation where Congress has passed the buck and turned a decision over to DHS that would be better situated with Congress, who knows the needs of the program."

"As secretary, I remain committed to protecting U.S. workers and strengthening the integrity of our lawful immigration system and look forward to working with Congress to do so," she added.

Last year, enough petitions had been received to hit the 66,000 cap by March. This year, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said it had received enough petitions to hit the cap by Feb. 27.

Starting this week, eligible petitioners for H-2B visas can file Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker.

President Trump said at a rally at the end of April that he would let in more guest workers to help ease the pain of farmers hit by trade warring.

"The unemployment picture is so good, it's so strong, that we have to let people come in," he said. "They're going to be guest workers. They're going to come in, they're going to work on your farms ... but then they have to go out." That proposal received a lackluster reception from the Washington Township, Mich., crowd.