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Democratic and Republican legislators in the House and Senate are seeking to import thousands of additional H-2B foreign seasonal workers, above the 66,000 per fiscal year currently allowed by law.

Sen. Thom Tillis, R.-N.C., is requesting 24,000 additional imported H-2B seasonal workers and Rep. Andy Harris, R.-Md., is seeking 54,000 more workers. The lawmakers are supported by many other Republican and Democratic legislators, including Sen. Tim Kaine, D.-Va.

Tillis’ plan would provide for the assignment of additional H-2B workers to companies working to repair hurricane damage in Florida and Houston, Texas, reducing the need of the companies to recruit and employ Americans.

According to

Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) has been negotiating with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to include a provision in the upcoming spending bill that increases the number of H-2B visas. The language mirrors language used in a 2017 spending bill that gave the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the discretion to authorize more visas [to 120,000]. 

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) has been working with the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), to craft a path forward for H-2B visa workers. Chairman Grassley is less interested in an actual increase in guest worker visas, so Tillis has suggested that there be a modest increase in the H-2B visa cap to 90,000. In addition, Tillis has included a bump in the number of H-2B visa workers for hurricane and natural disaster relief work over the next two years.

This disaster relief portion of the bill has caught the eye of Chairman Grassley, and because of it he is willing to accept the permanent increase to the H-2B visa cap. Though Tillis’ proposal is less than Harris’ proposal in the House, it still increases the H-2B visa cap.

Tillis’ proposed increase of 24,000 H-2B visas is being denounced by employers as too small.

The H-2B program is limited by law to 66,000 foreign workers per fiscal year.

Ryan worked with Democrats and Republicans in 2015 and 2017 to increase the number of H-2B visas above the limit. Following President Donald Trump’s election in 2016, Ryan backed away from the cheap-labor option due to Trump’s high-wage/low-immigration platform.

Bipartisan pressure pushed the 2017 cap to 81,000. Due to a budget impasse, the cap for 2018 has reverted to the statutory level of 66,000. Even so, the 2018 cap will increase for the remainder of the year if the Harris or Tillis measures are included in the 2018 omnibus bill, planned for completion on March 23.

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