Federal agencies free up 22,000 additional H-2B visas

The United States Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Labor have agreed to offer 22,000 additional H-2B visas to employers for the second half of the federal fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, 2021.

The visas are used by employers, such as racehorse trainers, who seek seasonal guest workers. They are capped at 66,000 annually, with an even split of 33,000 available for each half of the federal government's fiscal year.

The additional visas will be made available later this spring or early summer via a temporary final rule in the Federal Register. Six thousand visas will be reserved for nationals of the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

"We are pleased to learn that additional H-2B visas will be available for trainers soon and applaud Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh for this action," NTRA President and Chief Executive Officer Alex Waldrop said. "At the same time, the NTRA supports relief from the burdensome annual H-2B visa cap through a permanent returning worker exemption and urges both departments to reform the program accordingly, enabling affected employers to stabilize their businesses."

This past December, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 became law and included a provision that provides the DHS with the discretionary authority to release an additional 64,176 H-2B visas when significant need is demonstrated. The NTRA, through its involvement with the H-2B Workforce Coalition, supports all efforts to make additional visas available to seasonal businesses struggling with labor issues.

The H-2B visa guest worker program is a non-immigrant visa program used by many industries that need temporary non-agricultural help when domestic workers are unavailable. For the horseracing industry, trainers rely heavily on the H-2B program to fill various backstretch positions.

Demand for H-2B visas often exceeds their availability and the cap level is quickly reached, leaving employers in need. For the second half of federal fiscal year 2021, DHS announced that by Feb. 12 it had received enough H-2B worker petitions to reach the congressionally mandated cap of 33,000 visas allotted.

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