On 5 March 2020, with US unemployment at 4%, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would release an additional 35,000 H-2B visas - including 10,000 reserved for citizens of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras - for the 2020 spring/summer period to begin on 1 April.
H-2B visas are heavily used by businesses in the tourism, hospitality, landscaping and construction industries to bring temporary workers onboard during peak seasons - like the summer 2020 tourist season which is rapidly approaching.
However: in the first week of April, with unemployment claims related to COVID-19 business closures skyrocketing (to past 22M as of this writing), DHS put release of the 35,000 additional H-2B visas "on hold until further notice" so as to "support US workers."
There seems to be an underlying assumption here that Americans who are suddenly unemployed will take the kinds of jobs which US employers routinely have to recruit temporary workers from overseas to fill.
Here's an excerpt from the Responsibilities & Duties of a job announcement currently online from a Vermont resort seeking H-2B applicants:
- Emptying trash
- Changing linen
- Vacuuming all meeting rooms after functions
- Cleaning and mopping of storage rooms and meeting rooms
- Setting up meeting rooms
- Requires heavy lifting up to 50 pounds on a regular basis
This is a full-time job that pays $7500-$10,000 for 6 months.
Will unemployed Americans take that kind of hard-work, low-skill, low-paid job (thus potentially reducing their unemployment benefits)? I'm skeptical.
Watch this space for updates.