If at First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try, Again - an H-2B Story Retold

By David North on December 21, 2021

It sounded like a good (if small-scale) idea earlier this year: the Department of Homeland Security, bowing to the wishes of the employers, decided to provide some additional H-2B (low-skilled, non-agricultural) workers for corporations wanting them.

But there was to be a hitch, and a sensible one; if an employer wanted more of these workers (who do a lot of forestry and landscaping chores, among other jobs) the employer had to hire them from the Northern Triangle of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras). Traditionally H-2B aliens came from Mexico and Jamaica, and only a relative handful resided in the Central American nations which were producing so many illegal aliens at our southern border. The government’s idea was why not offer legal (and temporary) jobs to those who might be thinking of crossing the Rio Grande, thus easing a little of the pressures on the southern border.

It was a good idea, but the Biden administration did not have the intestinal fortitude to stick with its initial position. When few employers applied for the 6,000 visas in this category, DHS did not tell the employers that the visas would “go to waste” – instead, in July it surrendered and allowed employers to hire those 6,000 H-2Bs from anywhere else in the world.

This time, the offer (announced Monday) is a tad different; there are 6,600 visas at stake, and they are only available if the employers hire from either the Northern Triangle or Haiti. There are another 13,000 slots available for workers from anywhere who have come to the U.S. as H-2Bs in the past and then returned to their homelands. Clearly these workers are less likely to abscond than brand-new H-2Bs, and giving them a preference makes sense both to the government and to employers who regard them as known quantities.

Speaking bluntly, most of the H-2B employers are rural, white, English-speaking males, often with Spanish-speaking foremen. Giving them the opportunity to hire new people, who are Black, and speak neither English nor Spanish, will not thrill many of them. So I doubt that there will be much utilization of the Haiti provision.

As to the offer of H-2B visas for strangers from the Northern Triangle, we know that this is not very attractive either. And the employers know that if they do not accept the offer, they can get anyone they want, if DHS, again, caves to their whims.

So the question is: will DHS surrender to the wishes of these rural employers as it has in the past, or does Secretary Mayorkas mean it this time?