Bloomberg Law
March 4, 2019, 5:31 PM

Senators Ask Homeland Security for 135,000 Seasonal Worker Visas

Laura D. Francis
Laura D. Francis

A bipartisan group of 11 senators is asking for more than 130,000 seasonal guestworker visas this year, a week after the visas ran out for the spring and summer season.

In addition to many tourist-heavy resorts, the H-2B visas are popular in seasonal industries such as landscaping, amusement, seafood processing, and forestry.

“In the short run, many areas of our country simply lack the working-age population needed to meet the demand for seasonal jobs,” according to the March 1 letter spearheaded by Sens. Susan Collins (R) and Angus King (I) of Maine. “In some industries, particularly tourism, we fear that the demand for workers so far outstrips the available supply that businesses could be forced to curtail operations, putting at risk the jobs of American workers who fill year-round positions at these establishments.”

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Feb. 22 announced that employers had used up all 66,000 H-2B visas for fiscal year 2019, prompting a lottery to determine which employers’ petitions would be processed. This year was the second straight year that the USCIS was met with such demand for the visas that it determined a lottery was necessary.

It was apparent early this year that demand for H-2B visas would be high. On January 1, the first day employers could seek Labor Department approval for the visas, the DOL received 5,276 employer applications for more than 96,400 workers.

Demand was so high in the first five minutes that the agency’s online application system crashed and remained down for a week.

The DOL now will conduct its own lottery in an attempt to manage the flow of applications during its peak periods at the beginning of each season.

Authority Granted by Congress

The most recent government funding legislation gave the Department of Homeland Security authority to increase H-2B visas up to the maximum amount allowed in prior years where an exception was made to the regular visa cap.

In the past two years, the DHS has used authority granted in previous spending measures to increase H-2B visas by 15,000, but only for those businesses that would face severe economic harm without the foreign workers.

The senators said the DHS should increase the H-2B cap to 135,320 visas this year, the number that was available in FY 2007.

A representative for the DHS wasn’t immediately available for comment.

The letter was joined by Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Christopher Coons (D-Del.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Thomas Carper (D-Del.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Tina Smith (D-Minn.).

To contact the reporter on this story: Laura D. Francis in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Terence Hyland at