Trump Administration Moves to Expand H-2B Visa Program

Stephen Dinan, Washington Times, May 25, 2017

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly. (Credit Image: © Barry Bahler/Planet Pix via ZUMA Wire)

The Trump administration is likely to expand a controversial guest-worker program, Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly told Congress on Thursday, in a move that’s bound to anger some of the president’s staunchest supporters.

Congress earlier this month gave Mr. Kelly the power to more than double the number of H-2B visas issued this fiscal year from 66,000 to more than 135,000.

In the weeks since, Mr. Kelly said, he’s been swamped with lawmakers lobbying him on both sides of the issue, with some saying businesses in their states and districts are desperate for the foreign help, and others pleading with the secretary to protect American workers by not approving the increase.

“This is one of those things I wish I didn’t have discretion,” Mr. Kelly told the Senate Appropriations Committee.

H-2B visas are aimed at seasonal non-agricultural workers, and are generally good for up to a year. The visas are sought by summer and winter resorts, as well as other seasonal businesses—from Maryland’s crab-picking plants to Alaska’s seafood processing industry.

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“We’ll likely increase the numbers for this year, perhaps not by the entire number I’m authorized,” Mr. Kelly said Thursday, tipping his hand somewhat.

He said he’s working with the Labor Department to try to figure out what, exactly, to do.

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He disclosed his own personal feeling as well, pointing back to his “working-class root background” he said reminds him that some of the workers being brought in under these visas are being used to undercut wages.

He pleaded with Congress to come up with a longer-term solution to the issue.

But that will be tough, given the divisions that plague the H-2B program and much of the rest of the immigration debate.

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