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United States proposes streamlining H-2B program

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On 15 August 2008, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced a series of proposed rule changes that would streamline procedures for hiring foreign workers under the H-2B program. The United States H-2B program allows employers to hire foreign workers to fill temporary non-agricultural occupations for which US workers can not be found. The maximum validity of an H-2B visa is normally one year.

The proposed rule changes are outlined below:

  • Reduce the time H-2B workers must wait outside the United States at the end of their visa's validity before they are eligible to re-apply under an H or L class visa from six months to three months
  • Require employers to give a detailed description of the H-2B employment and outline their use of recruiters to locate H-2B workers
  • Punish employers and recruiters who require payment from prospective H-2B workers in connection with or as a condition of an offer of H-2B employment
  • Require an approved "temporary labor certification" in connection with all H-2B applications
  • To prevent, with limited exception, the change of the employment start date after the grant of the temporary labor certification
  • Require employers to notify the Department of Homeland Security when H-2B workers fail to show up for work, are terminated, or leave the worksite without notification
  • Change the definition of "temporary employment" to provide that a job is of a temporary nature when the worker will end in the near, definable future
  • Eliminate the requirement that employers show "extraordinary circumstances" to be eligible to hire H-2B workers where a one-time need for the workers is longer than one year but shorter than three years
  • Prohibit the approval of H-2B petitions for nationals of countries that consistently refuse or unreasonably delay repatriation of their citizens
  • Establish a "land-border exit system" test program, which requires temporary workers admitted through a port of entry participating in the test program to also depart through a participating port and to present designated biographic and/or biometric information upon departure

The rule changes are part of a general attempt to improve visa programs for temporary workers while the debate on US immigration reform continues to stall in Congress.

"These changes are being proposed in further fulfillment of the commitment made by the Administration last August, after the failure of Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform, to review and improve temporary worker visa programs using existing authorities," USCIS said in a release.

The rule changes are designed to remove "unnecessary limitations" on employers who utilize the H-2B program as well as protecting the rights of temporary workers. The changes will supplement the current proposed reforms to the H-2B program carried out by the Department of Labor on 22 May 2008.