The Trump administration has expanded the meaning of “America First” to include foreign workers willing to take on low-skill work.
Citing a shortage of “qualified and willing” Americans to meet the high-season needs of businesses like landscape companies, amusement parks, and hotels, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said it will increase the number of available H2B visas for non-farm temporary workers by 15,000 for fiscal year 2017.
This may seem out of line with US president Donald Trump’s “Hire American” initiative, and his efforts to reduce or delay visas for skilled foreign workers. But senior DHS officials assured reporters on a briefing about the change that it is completely in line with the president’s nationalistic stance.
“We do think it fits into the ‘America First’ focus of the administration,” said one of them. “This does help with American businesses continuing to prosper.”
That could include Trump’s own hotels. Though DHS officials said they had no information on whether Trump companies would apply for any of the extra H2Bs, his properties have in the past hired foreign workers that way.
The visa expansion might not be large enough to satisfy some companies in need of workers. Congress earlier this year had authorized the DHS to offer up to 64,000 more H2B visas, but it was up Homeland Security secretary John Kelly to decide exactly how many to grant. (The number of H2B visas issued has fluctuated wildly over time.)
Employers had been complaining about the need for workers since March, when they exhausted the official cap of 66,000 H2B visas per fiscal year. The cancellation earlier this year of a provision that had exempted returning workers from being included in that cap had worsened the shortage.
Now service companies will have to fight over the 15,000 new slots. First, though, they will need to attest that they would suffer irreparable harm if they can’t hire the foreign workers they are requesting. It’s a new requirement to access the visas under Trump’s “America First” administration.