The Trump administration’s record of enforcing immigration laws and delivering the lowest unemployment rate since 2000 is creating big demand for H-2 visas for seasonal guest workers.
Illegal immigration tends to increase in the spring, as demand for farm workers and unskilled workers accelerates. With enhanced enforcement from the deployment of National Guard units this year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that 40,344 individuals had been apprehended for illegal entry along America’s southwestern border in May, compared with 38,278 in April and 37,385 in March.
DHS Press Secretary Tyler Q. Houlton said in a statement: “These numbers show that while the Trump administration is restoring the rule of law, it will take a sustained effort and continuous commitment of resources over many months to disrupt cartels, smugglers, and nefarious actors.”
Trump’s focus on immigration enforcement and job growth has forced employers to raise wages and look for more U.S. workers. Some are also hoping to use the H-2 visa program, which provides temporary workers with six-month visas.
Since March 30, the administration has certified another 32,084 guest-worker positions, expanding the number of six-month H-2A farm worker visas to 113,432. That is up 40 percent from the 80,348 in March and 65 percent from the 68,683 when President Trump took office in January 2017.
The top states thus far this year for H-2A labor certification positions were Florida, with 17,493; Georgia, with 16,004; and Washington, with 10,751. Crops that traditionally require the most H-2A labor are berries and lettuce.
According to the “Packer” blog, which reports on all aspects of fruit and produce harvesting, transportation, and marketing, growers are complaining complain that the wage for legal H-2A seasonal farmworkers is in the “mid-$20s per hour.” But demand for seasonal farm workers is so strong that the U.S. Department of Labor may certify up to 240,000 H-2A visas by the end of the year.
The Trump administration’s interest in seasonal guest workers is not limited to agriculture. But the six-month H-2B visa program for non-farm guest workers has been limited by Congress to a maximum of 66,000 guest workers per year, since the 1990s, divided evenly between the summer and winter seasons.
However, the Gartner Group reported that the Congressional spending bill passed in March granted Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen the discretionary right to double the number of H-2B visas, depending on labor market need.