New immigration data hub promotes transparency

Portal tracks number of applications, approvals for H-2B visas.
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Employers now have an easier opportunity to employ foreign, non-agricultural workers.

The federal government recently established an H-2B Employer Data Hub that provides information to the public about employers’ petitions for H-2B workers such as cooks, waiters, dishwashers, housekeepers, landscapers and construction workers, among others.

The data hub includes all the information of an employer (petitioner) such as the name, address, occupation, industry, cap fiscal year and hourly wage.

The federal government has placed a cap on the number of H-2B visas that can be issued during a fiscal year. The cap currently is “66,000 per fiscal year, with 33,000 for workers who begin employment in the first half of the fiscal year (Oct. 1-March 31.)”

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services rule, any unused numbers from the first half of the fiscal year will be available for employers seeking to hire H-2B workers during the second half of the fiscal year (April 1- Sept. 30,) which is usually capped at 33,000. Once the fiscal year ends, however, the number of H-2B visas left cannot be carried over to the next fiscal year.

“This is an effort to be transparent,” said Kimberly Clarke, partner and immigration attorney at Varnum. “There are a lot of calls on the government from a lot of different directions to be clear on what they are doing with immigration petitions. In response to that, they decided to put that information out because H-2B is one of those categories that is capped. From the petitioner’s side of things, we don’t know what is filed. The government immigration (service) knows what is filed, but we just know that they run out of numbers. We want to make sure from a petitioner’s perspective that all the numbers that are available are being used.”

The new data hub comes as the national unemployment rate in June was 5.9%, which is a decline from January, when it was 6.3%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Last year in April, the unemployment rate was 14.7%.

In Michigan, the unemployment rate is currently 5%. One of the industries that has been struggling to bounce back is the hospitality industry. According to the BLS, the unemployment rate in the hospitality and leisure sector was 10.9% for the month of June. That is a slight decrease from 13% for March.

Before employers can apply for H-2B visas, they have to show that they have been looking for employees within the United States. Once they have proven that to the government, they can petition for visas that allow for foreign, seasonal employees to come to the United States to work.

Clarke

“The lack of talent increases the conversation about visa availability, and it takes the pressure off the federal government to explain what they are doing with the limited visas that we have,” Clarke said. “The (data hub) is partly to show the needs are above the visas that are available, so the push in immigration reform and more work visas is supported sometimes by the information in the data hub showing how many applications were filed and then how many were selected. The conversation is increased by the talent needs that we have right now.” 

Todd Callewaert owns several businesses on Mackinac Island: Island House Hotel, Starbucks, Seabiscuit Café, Mary’s Bistro, Pancake House & Grille and Ryba’s Fudge Shop, as well as rental properties

According to a Business Journal report published last year, Callewaert said he and his family have been hiring immigrants with H-2B visas for 25 years to do seasonal jobs.

“We don’t have the local pool of workers on Mackinac Island,” he said last year. “There are about 500 people on Mackinac and in the surrounding areas the population is about 10,000 people, so we don’t have the local pool. We have to draw from someplace else. We look for people in Michigan, and not many people want to come to Mackinac to work a seasonal job for six months and go back home. There are not a lot of American workers who want to do that. So, that was when we decided to use the guest worker program. These jobs are housekeeping, lawn cutting, groundskeeping, dishwashing and prep cooks. Those are the positions they fill. We also employ other American workers so we can open. About 12% of our staff are foreign nationals and the rest are American workers.”

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