On June 23, 2021, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) launched the H-2B data hub, which provides information to the public on employers or agents petitioning for H-2B workers. A press release noted that this is an effort to increase transparency in employment-based visa programs.
H-2B Data Hub
The data hub will allow the public to search for H-2B petitioners by cap fiscal year since 2015. All information about an employer, such as the name, address, occupation, industry, cap fiscal year, and hourly wage, is included. The information will enable the public to calculate the approval and denial rates of the employers who are using the program.
USCIS will provide downloadable annual releases of the data and update the data hub on a quarterly basis. USCIS also announced that because FY 2021 H-2B has a supplemental cap in place, information about the cap will be available by September 2021.
The employer data hub initiative was quick to receive appreciation among practitioners. “This is an effort to be transparent,” Kimberly Clarke, partner and immigration attorney at Varnum, stated. “There are a lot of calls on the government from a lot of different directions to be clear on what they are doing with immigration petitions. In response to that, they decided to put that information out because H-2B is one of those categories that is capped. From the petitioner’s side of things, we don’t know what is filed. The government immigration (service) knows what is filed, but we just know that they run out of numbers. We want to make sure from a petitioner’s perspective that all the numbers that are available are being used.”
H-2B Visa Cap
A cap of 66,000 H-2B visas is issued in a fiscal year; among those, 33,000 are issued for workers who begin employment in the first half of the fiscal year, October 1 – March 31. If the visas are not used in the first half of the fiscal year, the unused visas can be used by employers in the second half.
The national unemployment rate has declined by more than half since last year. According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national unemployment rate in June was 5.9 percent, down from January’s 6.3 percent. In April of 2020, the unemployment rate was at 14.7 percent.
Before an employer petitions for a foreign worker under the H-2B visa, they must show proof of diligent efforts taken to employ American workers. Only then can they petition for foreign nationals to enter the United States.
Lack of American Workers to Do Seasonal Jobs
Entrepreneurs report that they are forced to hire foreign workers for seasonal jobs because they cannot find laborers in their local community. According to a Business Journal report published last year, Callewaert, a business entrepreneur, has been hiring immigrants with the H-2B visa for the past 25 years to do seasonal jobs. He said that approximately 500 people live on Mackinac Island, Michigan, and approximately 10,000 in the surrounding area. Due to the limited population, Callewaert is forced to draw more people through the H-2B program. “About 12% of our staff are foreign nationals and the rest are American workers,” said Callewaert.