Will the Surge at the Border Lower the Use of the H-2B Program?

August visa issuance data suggests it will

By David North on October 17, 2023

Given the huge influx of illegal aliens at our southern border, many of whom have Biden administration-issued work permits, what has happened to the number of visa issuances in the H-2B program?

One might expect that the large group of newcomers would have shouldered aside a number of H-2B workers; many of the new arrivals at the border are non-skilled, non-ag workers, a description that fits the definition of the H-2B program.

The employers in this field would have their choice of using a numerically restricted government program with many rules and regulations (H-2B) on one hand, or the free market nature of hiring the newcomers; both actions would be equally legal. With H-2B there are government fees to pay, and under many circumstances travel costs to be borne; this is not the case if the employer hires from among the asylum seekers.

There is no handy government data source that is known to me that measures the total number of H-2B workers month by month, but data is available on portions of that flow for specific nations, namely the monthly nonimmigrant visa issuance data issued by the State Department.

To sample this data, we took the visas issuances for H-2B workers from five Western Hemisphere nations known to send us substantial numbers of H-2B workers and looked at visa issuances in August 2022 and August 2023.

We found a substantial drop in H-2B usage in August 2023 as compared to the same data for August 2022, as the table below shows:

Issuance of H-2B Visas in Selected Nations in August 2022 and August 2023

Nation August 2022 August 2023
Mexico 1,541 673
Guatemala 686 466
El Salvador 552 188
Jamaica 406 163
Honduras 248 353
Totals 3,433 1,843

Source: “Monthly Nonimmigrant Visa Issuance Statistics”, U.S. State Department.

So the number of H-2B visas dropped by almost half for these five key nations in the periods studied. This despite the efforts of the U.S. government to make it easier to secure these visas from the three Northern Triangle nations (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras), as we previously reported. The government wanted to use the country-specific expansion of the H-2B program to ease some of the pressure on the southern border from Northern Triangle migrants.

This decrease in H-2B visas may be but a straw in the wind, but we will continue to keep an eye on developments. Needless to say, it is preferable to have alien workers here temporarily, as in the H-2B program, arriving in a controlled way, than to have them arrive in a permanent and unplanned way, as they are doing now at the southern border.

In the meantime, has the H-2A program (for farm workers) been impacted by the surge at the border in a similar way? That will be the subject of a subsequent posting.