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

what is an h2b visa

“What is an H2B visa?” is a question many are asking, especially with many of the immigration programs in the U.S. in a state of flux or uncertainty.

Understanding this visa and its implications is crucial, particularly given potential business impacts 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

What is an H2B Visa?

The H2B Visa is a unique avenue within the U.S. immigration system, specifically catering to non-agricultural temporary workers. Its primary function is to assist businesses when they experience a dearth of local talent or manpower to meet their operational needs.

For a company to successfully obtain an H2B Visa for an employee, they must demonstrate a genuine, temporary requirement for such workers and provide evidence that attempts to recruit domestic U.S. workers have proven unsuccessful.

One significant characteristic that sets the H2B Visa apart is its focus on temporary job roles. This necessitates that the roles in question strictly adhere to a specific duration or seasonality. 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 is an h2b visa

What Types of Employees Do H2B Visas Cover?

At its core, the H2B Visa program primarily focuses on industries with pronounced seasonal or peak-season work fluctuations. The program’s essence is to bridge the gap between the demand for labor during peak seasons and the availability of workforce resources.

To give more context, Workpermit.com, a renowned platform offering insights on various Visa programs, sheds light on the broad range of professionals benefiting from this program:

“Each year, a whopping 66,000 temporary employees make their way to the U.S. shores using H2B visas. This visa paves the way for employers in the U.S. to onboard migrant talents for short-term, non-agricultural roles.”

This means sectors like amusement parks, which experience a surge in visitors during summertime, or ski resorts bustling during the winter season, are quintessential candidates for this visa program. But the scope isn’t limited to these alone.

A gamut of other businesses, ranging from golf courses, cruise operations, diverse resorts, and even certain seasonal recreational facilities, often tap into the H2B Visa pool. Moreover, this program is quite inclusive, allowing both skilled and unskilled labor to participate.

what is an h2b visa

However, the H2B isn’t a carte blanche for businesses to hire from abroad indiscriminately. Contrary to the H1B Visa, which targets specialized professions often requiring advanced degrees, the H2B emphasizes more on the unavailability of U.S. workers for the task at hand.

Therefore, if U.S. workers are available and willing for the job role, the company’s bid to hire via the H2B Visa program might hit a roadblock.

Roles Commonly Filled by H2B Visa Holders

  • Ski resort workers in places like Colorado.
  • Amusement park employees in areas such as Florida.
  • Golf courses staff.
  • Cruise lines workers.
  • Resorts and seasonal recreational facilities.
  • Positions can be for both skilled and unskilled workers.

what is an h2b visa

Comparison Between H1B and H2B Visas

To gain a clearer understanding of the differences between H1B and H2B visas, we’ve prepared a concise comparison table. While both are non-immigrant visas, their purposes, eligibility criteria, and application processes differ.

The table below highlights the key distinctions to help businesses and potential applicants navigate the U.S. visa system more efficiently:

Feature/RequirementH2B VisaH1B Visa
PurposeFor temporary non-agricultural workersFor specialized roles requiring a degree or specialized skills
Industries Commonly Using VisaHospitality, tourism, seasonal recreational facilitiesTech companies, medical professionals, finance, engineering
Nature of JobSeasonal, intermittent, peak-load, one-time occurrenceSpecialized roles requiring specific expertise or education
Annual Cap66,000[H1B cap number, e.g., 85,000]
Education RequirementNot mandatoryAt least a bachelor’s degree or equivalent in a specific field

what is an h2b visa

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.

Anticipated Changes to the H2B Visa Program

  • Strengthened protections for workers.
  • Increased transparency.
  • Stricter limits on the number of visas awarded.
  • More rigorous application and vetting process.

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 need to familiarize themselves with the latest updates from 2023, as highlighted in the upcoming video, to understand what specific changes might entail for them going forward.

Work Visa Photo via Shutterstock

Annie Pilon Annie Pilon is a Senior Staff Writer for Small Business Trends and has been a member of the team for 12 years. Annie covers feature stories, community news and in-depth, expert-based guides. She has a bachelor’s degree from Columbia College Chicago in Journalism and Marketing Communications.