Advocates of the H-2B program for seasonal foreign guest workers expect an uphill battle in the foreseeable future.
The program is used to fill seasonal positions when Americans aren’t available and has been a source of frustration for many employers.
Last year, a program allowing more of the short-term visas expired. Business owners relying on foreign help were surprised the first week of January to find that all 66,000 visas allowed had already been granted.
“Out of about 50 people, we were only able to get 12,” said John Tortorella, president of J. Tortorella Swimming Pools in Southampton, N.Y.
Tortorella said he could fill the remaining slots with Americans and immigrants carrying permanent visas. This was due to the large number of unemployed workers available.
However, high unemployment figures haven’t helped fill many lifeguard positions, another job that is traditionally part of the H-2B program.
“The young people who would typically be lifeguards want to work at the mall,” said Doug Winkler, president of Winkler Pool Management in Hyattsville, Md.
Winkler filled his lifeguarding positions using the J-1 Exchange Visitor visa, which only accepts university students and limits their stays to four months.
In addition, the current political climate is proving less friendly to the visa program. Now, some legislators have begun to look at all visa programs with a critical eye, especially as the unemployment rate continues to rise.
Many share a sentiment expressed by builder Joe Jones, who believes Americans, or immigrants on permanent visas, should be given first consideration. “We need to take care of us,” said the president of Texas Blue Lake Pools Inc. in Amarillo, Texas. “I want somebody who is going to share the burden of taxes and spend their money here.