Extra H-2B visas a relief to some
Hirers say jobs hard to fill; critics see Americans slighted
CHICAGO — When Ruben Chavez’s landscaping company needed extra manpower this summer to lay patio and driveway pavers, it applied to hire temporary foreign workers through the government’s H-2B visa program.
But the annual cap for such visas had been reached and the application was denied. Chavez estimates his company, based in suburban Chicago, missed $100,000 in potential contracts as a result.
Now Chavez has another shot. Using powers granted it by Congress, the Department of Homeland Security announced in July that it would issue an additional 15,000 H-2B visas for jobs starting before the end of September, on top of the 66,000 permitted annually by law, to employers that would suffer “irreparable harm” without the seasonal help.
Many employers that rely on extra workers for their busy summer months say the move comes too late to make a difference. But Chavez, who was offering $15.30 an hour for six paver layers to work June through
November, says he plans to apply for the new batch to try to salvage what’s left of the season.
Many of the green lawns blanketing Chicago’s suburbs owe their mulching, mowing, planting and pruning to H-2B workers, who are brought to the U.S. by employers to fill low-skill nonagricultural jobs they say they can’t find Americans to do.
In Illinois, nearly 60 percent of the H-2B visas certified by the U.S. Department of Labor so far this fiscal year were for landscaping and groundskeeping workers, greater than the 45 percent share nationally. Amusement park and carnival workers are the second largest H-2B category in Illinois, though nationally visas for maids and housekeepers take the No. 2 spot.
The contention that Americans won’t do those types of jobs is a source of constant debate that flared again with the announcement of the extra visas, which came during the Trump administration’s “Made in America” week. Even President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla., is seeking to hire housekeepers, cooks and servers through the H2B program.
But with the unemployment rate highest among less-educated Americans, critics of the H-2B program say employers aren’t trying hard enough to fill these
Employees of Jimenez & Sons Landscaping who are in the United States on H-2B work visas haul gravel for a project in Lemont, Ill., on July 20.