When the American construction industry was suffering in the immediate wake of the 2008 recession, the idea of any issues with entry visas into the United States for construction workers was not considered any big concern. But as the construction industry picks up speed and skilled workers are at a premium, a couple of the visas that are available have become topics of discussion. One visa, in particular, the H-2B visa, is causing discussions all over the country.
What Is The H-2B Visa?
The H-2B visa is a temporary non-agricultural visa that allows a worker to stay in the United States for up to three years, provided that worker can find new American employers to help keep their visa current. It applies to construction workers, cruise ship workers, resort workers, amusement park workers, and almost any type of seasonal and temporary working position.
The reality is that around five percent of all H-2B visas granted in the United States in 2014 were for construction. The majority of the 66,000 H-2B visas are given to resort and amusement park workers. But for many construction companies, the H-2B remains the best legal way to get workers into the country.
The Limitations Of The H-2B
To be allowed to use the H-2B visa, an employer must prove that there is a position waiting for the foreign worker that an American worker is not willing or able to fill. The position can only be seasonal or part-time. The process of proving the need for a foreign worker is expensive for American companies, and it can take time.
American companies must also pay all of the fees associated with acquiring the H-2B for each foreign worker. Payment includes the legal fees and the transportation fees to the United States and back to the worker’s home country. The federal government also provides a prevailing wage that the foreign worker must be paid while they are working in the United States. Despite its outward appearance of being beneficial to American construction companies, the H-2B looks to be an expensive and inefficient solution.
The H-2B visa is usually acquired by a foreign worker through the U.S. consulate in their home country. The duration of a standard H-2B is one year, but it can be extended up to a maximum of three years. The American company must have an official job offer waiting for the foreign worker for an H-2B application to be considered, and the job can only run for a pre-determined period of time.
Is H-2B A Good Option For The Construction Industry?
At this point, the H-2B visa is one of the few visas that allows foreign construction workers to enter the country legally. As the need for foreign construction workers in the United States grows, the 66,000 annual visa limit on the H-2B becomes more of a problem. American construction workers are already working on other projects, which makes foreign workers more valuable to American companies.
Aside from the limit on the number of H-2B visas, there is also the issue of sharing the H-2B visa with industries such as hospitality. It is easier for hospitality companies to estimate their need for seasonal workers, which makes it easier for these companies to get their H-2B visa requests in ahead of construction companies. By the time the construction companies figure out how many workers they need, many of the H-2B visas are already gone.
Other Visa Options
Many of the skilled foreign workers American construction companies need have four-year college degrees, which means that they could qualify for one of the 85,000 H-1B visas given out every year. The problem with the H-1B visa is that multiple companies can apply for a single visa for a single worker, and the timeline takes months to complete. The H-2B visa process is faster, but not necessarily more beneficial to the company.
For now, the H-2B remains an option that American construction companies continue to pursue. Some construction organizations are petitioning the federal government to expand the number of H-2B visas available. However, so far the American government has kept the H-2B count at 66,000 per year with no signs of changing it.