Several labor unions, including the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers and the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, are opposing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Labor’s (DOL) H-2B Visa increase. Ten unions sent a letter to the DHS and the DOL expressing their opposition to the increase in 22,000 temporary non-agricultural worker visas.

The DHS announced the additions earlier this week, stating, “The additional visas will be made available in the coming months via a temporary final rule in the Federal Register. Furthermore, to expand lawful pathways for opportunity in the United States consistent with the President’s Executive Order 14010 on ‘Creating a Comprehensive Regional Framework to Address the Causes of Migration, to Manage Migration Throughout North and Central America, and to Provide Safe and Orderly Processing of Asylum Seekers at the United States Border,’ 6,000 of these visas will be reserved for nationals of the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.”

In the unions’ letter, the organizations stated their disapproval of the additional H-2B visas during the current economic state of the country.

“Instead of raising the H-2B cap, the Biden Administration should take steps to protect all workers – both U.S. and migrant – by strengthening labor protections in the H-2B program,” according to the letter.

“The official unemployment rate is currently at 6%. However, many people have dropped out of the workforce and unemployment in specific industries for which H-2B visas are often used is much higher … With millions of unemployed workers in top H-2B occupations, increasing the cap would undermine efforts to get workers of all status back on their feet. It would also expose more H-2B workers to the egregious abuses that pervade the program. Neither of these outcomes is acceptable.”

The unions asked that, instead of raising the H-2B cap, the government should implement worker protections into the program. The letter listed the following requests:

  • Deny H-2B labor certifications in any labor surplus industries with an unemployment rate over 6%;
  • Increase debarment of H-2B employers who have broken the law, including but not limited to wage and hour, health and safety, and human trafficking violations;
  • Require H-2B employers to pay the local or national prevailing wage, whichever is higher; and
  • Provide concrete status protections and work authorization to H-2B workers who suffer abuse on the job.

According to the DHS, the additional visas will only be available to employers who have expressed a need for additional workers to avoid suffering from “irreparable harm.”