DHS Effort to Expand H-2B Program to Aliens from Seven Nations Falters

By David North on January 16, 2024

Suppose the government made it even easier than it is now to hire a group of foreign workers, and the employers, with about eight weeks notice, used less than a quarter of the new slots — wouldn’t that shoot down claims of worker shortages in that part of the economy?

I think so, and that is exactly what happened to the H-2B worker program for unskilled, non-agricultural workers. Such workers are used in landscaping, forestry, and restaurants, among other industries.

On November 17, 2023, USCIS announced that H-2B employers could have 20,000 new H-2B workers if they wanted them. There was a stipulation that the workers had to be new to the program and had to live in one of seven nations that were already sending us more illegal and quasi-illegal migrants than we wanted.

The nations are Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, and Honduras, all Spanish-speaking with the exception of Haiti, and all in the Western Hemisphere.

By January 12, the government had takers for only 4,500 such workers and announced that it was still accepting applications in the program. H-2B employers in the past have been notorious for not wanting to hire Haitian workers, preferring people from Mexico and Jamaica, as we have previously reported. (If you want to discriminate against people from a given background, don’t hire U.S. residents covered by the equal employment laws, hire through DHS, which will not question such applications.)

Compare the use of less than 25 percent of these new openings to the routine over-subscription of the H-1B program, where hundreds of thousands of applications (including numerous duplicates) routinely cause USCIS to run a lottery for the 85,000 slots. There is no need for an H-2B lottery for workers from the seven nations.

December visa issuances are not available as yet, but we do have those for November 2023, covering a period before the 20,000 became available, and the two weeks afterward. This is what the State Department statistics show for November 2023 and for November 2022:

  2022 2023
Colombia 13 15
Costa Rica 10 10
Ecuador 13 3
El Salvador 63 14
Guatemala 500 483
Haiti 0 0
Honduras 386 300
Total 935 825

So with 20,000 extra slots from the seven nations, the employers in November 2023 actually used 110 fewer H-2Bs than in the prior year. All this is from the State Department’s “Nonimmigrant Visa Issuance by Nationality” for the months of interest.

We previously suggested that the surge at the southern border, including unknown hundreds of thousands of workers with H-2B-like credentials had diminished the use of the H-2B program by about 50 percent using a different statistical comparison.

Meanwhile, in the Far West Pacific. The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), just north of Guam, a territory that has been overloaded with foreign workers for decades, has just reported a similar under-utilization of guestworkers vis-a-vis the ceiling set by the government, in this case Congress.

According to the weekly news roundup of the CNMI’s vote-less delegate to the House of Representatives, Kilili Sablan (who is routinely sympathetic to the employers), Congress set a cap of 10,000 CW workers (a special program for the islands) and only 4,300 have signed up for it, suggesting another governmental over-estimate of a labor shortage. This is from his January 12 newsletter.