Remember the hullabaloo last summer about the alleged "need" for more foreign workers, notably in some of New England's posh resorts?
Remember the horror stories about how some of these resort owners actually had to resort to paying higher wages to get some of the workers they wanted?
Remember how Congress, and ultimately then-DHS Secretary John Kelly, moved to add 15,000 H-2B workers to the usual set of 66,000?
Remember how some lobbyists for employers argued that even 15,000 more was too small a figure, a drop in the bucket compared to the real needs?
The Department of Homeland Security has just now — very quietly — released data on the subject that shows that despite all that talk of "shortages", employers used only 13,534 of the available visas. The deadline for filing for these workers was September 15, so the season is over and no more applications will be accepted.
H-2B workers are supposed to be short-term, unskilled, non-agricultural, nonimmigrant workers; many of them work in forestry or landscaping, and others in the tourist industries. It is a relatively small program, compared to the larger use (and often exploitation) of H-2A farm workers, and H-1B skilled workers.
There is another piece of good news totally buried in DHS press release:
Petitions that have been submitted but are not approved by USCIS before Oct. 1 will be denied and any associated fees will not be refunded.
Hopefully DHS will use the precedent of not refunding fees for denied (or otherwise unused) petitions in its administration of the H-1B program, which is routinely oversubscribed.
The regular return of fees — thousands of dollars in each case — in the H-1B program deprives DHS of literally hundreds of millions of dollars each year. It also is a large, if backhanded, financial boon to H-1B employers, who are thus encouraged to file for more workers than they need – because they know that they will get their money back if they do not get the workers.
Holding on to fees for denied foreign worker petitions would run up the cost to employers of participating in the program, and might cause some of them to actually start hiring citizen and green card workers.