The Trump administration said on Monday that it is providing an additional 15,000 visas for foreign workers, despite the president's calls to hire US workers first.
The one-time boost is for seasonal H-2B visas for non-agricultural employment, often used for hotel work or seafood processing. They were made available by the Department of Homeland Security after federal officials said there were not enough qualified and willing US workers to meet the needs of businesses for the remainder of the 2017 fiscal year.
The increase was made possible through a spending bill passed by Congress in May that gave regulators the ability to issue additional visas beyond the 66,000 cap — a move that has raised concern among some advocates for US workers and those who worry the visa program can lead to the exploitation of foreign laborers.
“Congress gave me the discretionary authority to provide temporary relief to American businesses at risk of significant harm due to a lack of available seasonal workers,” said DHS Secretary John Kelly 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.”
In order to qualify for the additional visas, businesses must attest under penalty of perjury that they are likely to suffer irreparable harm if they can’t employ H-2B workers for the rest of the year. Under the H-2 visa program, employers must also attest that they have made every effort to hire domestically.
A BuzzFeed News investigation in 2015 found that H-2 workers were often exploited, and sometimes raped or beaten. BuzzFeed News also found that many Americans were denied jobs in favor of guest workers when companies made bogus or cursory efforts to hire US workers before seeking H-2 workers.
Since 2003, more than 100,000 foreigners have been brought in under the H-2 program each year, and Trump is no stranger to them.
Businesses owned by Trump or bearing his name have been big users of the controversial H-2 program in the past, including Mar-A-Lago — recently termed the winter White House — the Trump National Golf Clubs in Florida and New York, and Trump International Beach Resort.
During a press briefing, Sean Spicer, White House Press Secretary, was asked how DHS making 15,000 new temporary visas available to US businesses doesn’t conflict with Trump’s “hire American” message.
“One of the things that you’re seeing through this is not just the number, it’s a lot of the qualifications that goes through there to ensure we are hiring and bringing in the people,” Spicer said.
Spicer said Trump is a supporter of the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act (RAISE Act), which would limit legal immigration. The bill, Spicer said, seeks to use a more merit-based system for some visas.
He was also asked if Trump would make a commitment to stop manufacturing clothes and other items abroad as part of his push to hire more US workers.
Spicer said Trump’s agenda includes regulatory and tax relief to help companies hire and manufacture in the US.
“It’s inappropriate to discuss how anything would affect their own companies, but I can tell you in some cases there are certain supply changes or scalability that might not be available,” Spicer told reporters. “I’m not going to comment on specific products, but I will tell you the overall arching goal is to grow the US manufacturing base and to grow US workers here. So that remains the overall objective.”