Trump administration allowing more low-skill foreign workers into country

Many hotels and resorts rely on low-skilled workers from abroad to perform seasonal work under the H-2B visa program.
Many hotels and resorts rely on low-skilled workers from abroad to perform seasonal work under the H-2B visa program.
City of Los Angeles

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Immigration officials are raising the ceiling of visas available under a program that brings in low-skilled, seasonal workers from abroad, they announced Monday, but employers will need to show their businesses would be harmed if their positions aren't filled.

The H-2B temporary visa work program helps companies in industries such as landscaping, hospitality and seafood processing who have difficulty finding workers. The program excludes agricultural operations.

There's a limit on the number of visas allowed under the H-2B program, with only 66,000 permitted this year. That number is split into two parts for the workers who begin employment in the first half of the fiscal year and those who begin in the second half. 

Officials are allowing another 15,000 workers to come into the country — welcome news for some businesses that rely on low-skilled, foreign workers, but not for unions that represent American employees in the affected industries. 

The lifting of the ceiling follows efforts by the administration to restrict entry by foreign workers, who candidate Donald Trump accused of taking jobs from American employees.

Gillian Christensen, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokeswoman, said Congress in May allowed Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly in the federal omnibus budget bill to increase H-2B visas one time. 

"The impact that we want it to have is to save American businesses that face potential irreparable harm so that they can keep their businesses going and keep their American employees employed," said Christensen. 

Now, businesses that need to hire more low-skilled, foreign workers can fill out a form to show that, without the workers, they will suffer financial losses.  

The H-2B visas differ from the H-1B visas heavily used by the technology industry to bring in highly skilled employees, such as those with engineering degrees.

Unionized hospitality workers oppose the lifting of the H-2B visa cap. Father Clete Kiley, director of immigration policy for the labor group UNITE HERE, whose members include hotel and resort workers.

"The H-2B visa workers are brought in and can quickly displace permanent workers in those spots, particularly union members that have those union jobs," Kiley said.

If more H-2B workers have to be brought in, Kiley said he hopes they will at least be paid fairly.

"You know we're not an anti-immigrant organization," he said. "We're overwhelmingly an immigrant union. But if you're going to use those visas, we want to see labor protections...".

The Trump Organization that runs the president's businesses is among the operations that use the visas to bring in workers, the Associated Press reported.