H-2B visas: Too little, too late?

The Trump Administration is increasing the number of H-2B visas by 15,000. 

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The H-2B visa is for temporary workers in seafood, landscaping, construction, forestry and similar industries. Farm laborers do not qualify.

Trump himself uses H-2B visas to staff his Florida-based resort Mar-a-Lago. 

RELATED STORY: Skilled job visas face scrutiny under Trump, lawyers warn

Oregon isn’t exactly overflowing with H-2B workers. Around 500 jobs are filled annually through the program, and most of the visas are utilized by the forestry industry.

Still, the people who use H-2B workers say they depend on them.

Phoenix-based Cutting Edge Forestry President Jeffery Nelson, for example, says he needed to hire 65 H-2B full-time workers this year because he has a hard time filling the positions locally.

“An almost non-existent labor pool makes it impossible to run a company of our stature in this industry,” Nelson said in his H-2B application. “With millions of dollars of work contracted to us annually, the H-2B program is the only way to help secure the future of our company, complete contracts and preserve our nation’s forests.” 

The new pool of visas will be available starting next week for businesses nationwide. The program works on a first come, first serve basis.

Reports by employers to the Department of Homeland Security indicate the decision to up the number of visas is too little, too late to make a difference this year. It takes up to 60 days to approve a business petition, so by the time employees could come on board industry peak seasons are over. 

So far in 2017, there have been 14 Oregon applications for workers under the H-2B program. 

Here are a few of the businesses that filed H-2B applications: 
[Information pulled from H-2B employment certification applications]

25 Carnival workers for Davis Shows NW, Oregon City
“We are a traveling business, the work is evenings and weekends, and it is very difficult to find workers willing to leave their homes and families to travel to each of our venues and we are unable to hire sufficient available workers in the US.”

57 Landscape laborers for Pacific Landscape Management, Hillsboro
“We have been in business since 2001 and our date of need for H-2B workers is the regularly recurring annual business cycle customary to the landscape industry in our locale.”

50 soccer coaches for UK International Soccer Camps, Portland
“UK International Soccer camps, through its camps and coaching operations, is engaged in arranging and conducting soccer camps and coaching programs, providing instructional coaching to children ages 6-12.” 

25 forest and conservation workers, Birrueta Reforestation, Jefferson
“In prior years, efforts have been taken to hire local workers to conduct this work. Newspaper ads and job orders opened by the local SWA has failed to provide a sufficient number of employees. Therefore, the company has been forced to rely on H-2B workers.” 

1 Chef for Café Sintra, Bend
“Café Sintra is a high-quality Portuguese cuisine restaurant, open 365 days per year.”  


H-2A visas — the more widely used foreign worker visa in Oregon, doesn’t have a cap, but the program is difficult to use which causes labor shortages for Oregon farmers, according to Gail Greenman, Director of National Affairs for the Oregon Farm Bureau.

RELATED STORY: Oregon farmers fear labor shortages

Those seeking H-2A visas for farm labor dwarf the number of applications by businesses for H-2B visas. There were 40 applications under the H-2A program this year and 48 last year.