March 24, 2017

What is an H2B Visa and How is it Different Than an H1B Visa?


What is an H2B Visa and How is it Different Than an H1B Visa?

With many of the immigration programs in the U.S. in a state of flux or uncertainty, could there be business implications related to various worker visa programs.

Unlike the H1B Visa often discussed during the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, H2B Visas are those intended for non-agricultural workers coming to the U.S. for temporary employment. So the program could potentially have an impact on a variety of businesses, especially those in the hospitality industry.

If you’re unfamiliar with the program, or want to learn more about how any of the potential changes to H2B Visas could impact your business, read on for a more in-depth look at the program.

What is an H2B Visa?

H2B Visas are intended for temporary workers who do not work in the agriculture industry. To qualify, businesses must have a need for temporary employees and be able to show that there aren’t enough U.S. workers who are willing and able to fill the need.

Businesses also need to be able to show that the positions they’re filling are temporary in nature. This means that the job needs to fit into one of the following four categories:

  • Recurring seasonal need, meaning that the business has a busy season or period each year where they employ more workers than they do throughout the rest of the year,
  • Intermittent need, meaning the business has work that isn’t covered by full-time staff and occasionally needs extra help from temporary employees,
  • Peak-load need, meaning the business has busy periods where the workload exceeds what they’re able to handle with just their full-time staff,
  • One-time occurrence, meaning the business has just one instance where temporary workers are needed.

There is also a cap on the number of H2B Visas awarded each year. The U.S. issues 66,000 of these visas each year, usually with half reserved for the first six months of each fiscal year and the other half reserved for the final six months.

What Types of Employees Do H2B Visas Cover?

Essentially, the H2B Visa program is meant for businesses that hire seasonal or peak-season employees.

According to Workpermit.com, an online resource for those seeking information about various Visa programs, “From ski resort workers in Colorado to amusement park employees in Florida, 66,000 temporary workers come to the US every year on H2B visas. The H2B allows US employers to hire migrant workers to fill temporary non-agricultural roles in the US.”

So businesses like amusement parks that need extra staff during summer or ski resorts that need help during the winter months are most likely to use this program. Other businesses that could potentially use this program might include golf courses, cruise lines, resorts, seasonal recreational facilities and other tourism based businesses.

These positions can be for both skilled and unskilled workers. So there isn’t a requirement that the job be for those with a college degree or equivalent, like there is for the H1B Visa program. But businesses do need to be able to show or explain why they need to hire foreign nationals. So if there’s no shortage of U.S. workers who are willing and able to do the job, businesses may not be able to hire using the H2B Visa program.

What Changes to H2B Visas Mean for Businesses?

In 2015, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Homeland Security, Employment and Training Administration and Wage and Hour Division, Labor unveiled changes to the H2B Visa program. The changes were aimed at strengthening protections for workers and increasing transparency.

Going forward, businesses might also have to deal with additional changes to the visa program. There haven’t been any specifics proposed just yet. But President Donald Trump mentioned changes to multiple temporary work visas throughout the 2016 campaign and the early days of his presidency.

If proposed changes to other temporary work visas are any indication, future updates might include stricter limits on the number of visas awarded to businesses and workers or a more involved application and vetting process. But businesses and workers will have to wait and see what, if any, specific changes will mean for them going forward.

Work Visa Photo via Shutterstock

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Annie Pilon - Staff Writer


Annie Pilon Annie Pilon is a Senior Staff Writer for Small Business Trends, covering entrepreneur profiles, interviews, feature stories, community news and in-depth, expert-based guides. When she’s not writing she can be found on her personal blog Wattlebird, and exploring all that her home state of Michigan has to offer.

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