Over the last few months the narrative of worker shortages has been percolating among industry leaders and several media sources. Industries such a as landscaping, construction, logistics (trucking), and agricultural have seen their workforce numbers dwindle due to retirements and an inability to attract a sufficient amount of labor to meet demand. For many years now The United States has maintained some form of temporary guest workers program to assist employers with accessing key labor. While such programs are accessible and apply to almost every country, the largest recipient of the nonimmigrant visas necessary for these temporary programs are Mexican Nationals. The majority of roles recipients are trying to fill fall under the afford mention industries and as the demand for more visas has increased the percentage of visas going to Mexico has remained steady. In 2017, 91.1% of H-2A visa recipients and 76.9% of H-2B recipients were from Mexico. Based on past experiences it is important to emphasis that there is no pathway to citizenship through nonimmigrant visas and that recipients are only looking for temporary employment opportunity when entering the U.S.
This makes the current structure of the Guest worker programs (and theH-2A/H-2B visas) a key dynamic shared by the U.S. and Mexico.
Introduced in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, the H-2 foreign seasonal worker program was created to assist U.S. employers with gaining access to labor otherwise unavailable within the US workforce. Today, working with the Department of Labor employers must meet several requirements before being accepted for a visa application. Two key qualifiers for employers must meet, include:
- Showing a dearth of “able, willing, and qualified U.S. workers”¹
- That the employment of nonimmigrants “will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers.”²
These requirements are met by proving that a considerable amount of effort went into recruiting american workers prior to reaching out to foreign labor and then guaranteeing that the foreign laborer will be compensated appropriately at local market rate. One important note about these visas is that they are temporary in nature, and that those applying to work in the U.S. must show that they have commitments in there country of origin to incentive their return.
Review and approval of each petition goes through the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Labor, and the Department of State.
Several bottlenecks regarding the effectiveness of these visas have highlighted a growing concern for the availability of key workforce groups in the U.S.. Of the 1 million farm jobs open every year in the U.S., only 6% of them use the H-2A visa, the majority employed are considered undocumented. This highlights the need for a more transparent employment system and a modernization of the current guest workers program to adequately meet the demands and needs of its users. Visas such as the H-2B face annual caps which have pinned industry demands and stagnated hires because of a lottery system considered by many to be out of tune with economic opportunities.
Between 2012 and 2017 the demand for nonimmigrant visas such as the H-2A and the H-2B increased significantly. The number of H-2A issued increased by 147% and H-2B by 67%.
The demand for these visas however continues to far outpace the rate of their issuance. On January 1st, 2019 alone the Department of Labor received 100,000 requests for H-2B visas: three times the semi-annual cap limit of 33,000. Over the last few years, the U.S. government has been increasing the cap, or applying strategies such as not deducing renewals from new recipients, in order to meet with employer demands.
Creating a properly working guest workers program that meets the shifting market demands creates legal avenues for those seeking employment in these high demand industries. Tapping into a countries full potential requires the ability to properly supply employers with the sufficient labor force to meet demand. Since mid-2018 the Bureau of Labor Statistics has recorded about 6 million job openings. Industries such as those in Technology who rely on H-1B visas have been very voicetress in increasing access to nonimmigrant visas, it is important to not forget about employers in construction and agriculture.
While even though the most optimal guest-workers program won’t eliminate illegal immigration, it will disincentives the hiring of undocumented workers. Over the years, many attempts have been made to generate/modify the guestworkers program whether it was through Comprehensive Immigration reform, proposed in 2006 and 2013, or through separate bills addressing one visa or another. Suggested amendments have included the removal of caps, extending the length of the stay, and reviewing the departments that manage nonimmigrant visas.
The current U.S. administration as well as members of the 116th Legislative Session have both been vocally requesting changes to several of our guestworker program. 2019 presents an opportunity to lay a solid foundation for effective guest workers reform a matter which would help expand economic opportunities not only in the US but also countries supplying the skilled labor. One possible solution is the design of a modernized bilateral agreements between the U.S. and other host countries similar to that of the Mexican-Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program established in 1974. As the biggest recipient of U.S. non-immigrant visas it is in Mexico’s interest that both countries come to the table to discuss all the options that could favor regional growth. Previous administrations have approached the issue and recommended reforms. Today’s U.S. Congress faces the clear opportunity to modernize a key component which has been a necessary aspect for filling the workforce gap. This is a conversation not exclusive from “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” and citizenship, but one tailored to workforce and economic development.
Mexico is the largest recipient of H-2A and H-2B visas n FY 2017 5