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U.S. provides visas to up to 15,000 temporary workers

17 Jul

Doina Chiacu and David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. government is allowing 15,000 additional visas for temporary seasonal workers to help American businesses in danger of suffering irreparable harm because of a shortage of such labor, the Department of Homeland Security said on Monday.

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly found after consulting with Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta that there were not enough qualified and willing American workers available to perform temporary nonagricultural work, the department said in a statement.

“As a demonstration of the administration’s commitment to supporting American businesses, DHS is providing this one-time increase to the congressionally set annual cap,” Kelly said in a statement.

Many seasonal businesses such as resorts, landscaping companies and seafood harvesters and processors had sought permission to temporarily hire more immigrants. Congress originally had set the cap at 66,000 workers for the fiscal year. In May, lawmakers gave Kelly authority to approve up to about 70,000 additional temporary visas and lawmakers had pleaded with him to issue more of them.

But advocates of stricter limits on immigration criticized the move, saying American workers should get job openings. Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, said in a statement the decision “threatens to reverse the trend of reports emerging around the country of employers working harder and raising pay to successfully recruit more unemployed Americans for lower-skilled jobs.”

Beck called the decision “yet another example of the administration and Congress failing to keep the Trump campaign promise of putting American workers first.”

President Donald Trump campaigned on an “America First” platform of favoring Americans for hiring. But Trump’s golf resorts in Florida have used the visas to hire temporary guest workers, Reuters reported.

A group of U.S. companies and groups that use the visas, called the “the H-2B Workforce Coalition,” in a statement praised the “minimal relief granted… Though we fear this gesture may be too little too late for thousands of small businesses … the additional visas may help save some small businesses this year.”

The group added that “from landscapers in Colorado to innkeepers in Maine to seafood processors along the Gulf Coast to carnivals nationwide, we hope the visa expansion will help some businesses avoid substantial financial loss, and in some cases, prevent early business closures during their peak season.”

Kelly told Congress “we really do need a long-term solution.” He said many temporary workers “are victimized when they come up here, in terms of what they’re paid.”

DHS said the government has created a new tip line to report any abuse of the visas or employer violations.

Asked how additional visas for temporary workers fit with Trump’s Hire American policy, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the president was focused on a more merit-based immigration system.

“It’s not just the number, it’s a lot of the qualifications,” he said at a news briefing.