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Fact Sheet: H-2B Visas

What is the H-2B visa?

The H-2B visa allows foreign nationals to work in temporary nonagricultural jobs. These jobs must be temporary because they are seasonal, due to an intermittent need, a one-time occurrence, or due to a peak-load need. The guest worker program is administered by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Employment and Training Administration (ETA).


How do H-2B holders contribute to our economy?

H-2B workers contribute by filling job shortages and more H-2B workers correlate with higher wages for all workers and more economic growth. According to a 2010 report by Immigration Works USA and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a 1 percent increase in the number of H-2B workers was associated with a 0.05 percent increase in wages for skilled and unskilled U.S. workers, both citizens and non-U.S. citizens. The report indicated that the H-2B program increases job opportunities for and does not adversely affect U.S. citizen workers.


In what industries do H-2B visa holders work?

A wide-variety of industries. Approximately 40 percent of all H-2B jobs are in landscaping and groundskeeping. The second largest industry for H-2B workers is forestry, comprising approximately eight percent of H-2B positions. Other industries with significant numbers of H-2B workers include:  amusement/recreation, hospitality (maids/housekeeping and hotel staff), meat/fish processing, construction, and restaurant (chefs, waiters/waitresses, and dishwashers).

What states have the highest number of H-2B visa holders?

The table below lists the top 10 states with the highest number of H-2B visa holders for fiscal year (FY) 2017:


Source: USCIS, 2017


What countries do H-2B visa recipients come from?

In 2015, more than 70 percent of H-2B visa holders were from Mexico. Of the remainder, Jamaica, Guatemala, the Philippines, and Great Britain were the countries who sent the most foreign nationals to work in the U.S. under H-2B visas.


How many H-2B visas are granted each year?

Congress caps the annual number of H-2B workers by statute. The current annual cap is  66,000 per fiscal year, with 33,000 issued during the first half of the fiscal year (between October 1 and March 31) and 33,000 for the second half of the fiscal year (between April 1 and September 30). In March 2018, Congress passed a spending bill that allows the administration to release additional H-2B visas based on employer need up to the number issued the previous year, potentially doubling the number of H-2B visas.

In May, as a result of high demand for foreign workers by employers, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen released 15,000 more H-2B visas for temporary nonimmigrant workers.


How does an employer qualify for H-2B workers?

To petition for an H-2B visa worker, an employer must submit a temporary labor certification – a certification granted by the Department of Labor that there are no qualified U.S. workers available for an open position. Next, the employer must complete a Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, on behalf of a specific prospective foreign national employee, and submit the form to USCIS. The petitioning employer has to provide evidence that the H-2B visa falls into one of the following categories – intermittent need, peak-load need, or seasonal need – and is a one-time occurrence. In select circumstances, an employer may extend the one year duration of the H-2B by two years, totaling a maximum duration of three years.

For a more USCIS guidance on the requirements for employers to petition for H-2B visas, click here.


What must a foreign national do to apply for an H-2B visa?

Prospective H-2B workers must meet the following requirements:

  • Provide Copy of Notice of Approval of H-2B Petition from the employer; the employer petition must be approved before foreign national can be considered for an H-2B visa.
  • Be a citizen of one of the eligible H-2B countries. For complete list, click here.
  • Provide evidence of ongoing ties to their home country to demonstrate their likelihood of return after the H-2B visa expires.
  • Complete relevant government forms, including DS-156 (Application for Nonimmigrant Visa) and, for males between 16 and 45 years of age, DS-157 (Supplemental SIV Chief of Mission Application).
  • Provide other relevant fees and documentation, including foreign passport, passport-style photo, and application fees. The cost of the application fees vary but recently have been estimated to be $190.


What are the conditions of an H-2B visa?

The following conditions apply to foreign nationals working under H-2B visas:

  • Authorization for temporary work in the U.S.
  • Eligibility for employee benefits, to the extent they are offered by their employer.
  • Authorization to travel into and out of U.S. without limitation.
  • Ability to change positions with their current H-2B employer
  • The visa is not transferable from one employer to another.
    • If H-2B visa holder wants to work for new employer in similar position, the H-2B visa holder would need a new H-2B visa. The new employer must submit ETA Form 750 and begin a new H-2B visa process.
  • Must receive guaranteed job offer by employer for temporary work prior to U.S. arrival. The foreign national is responsible for finding a sponsor to petition for H-2B workers.
  • Receive prevailing wage rate in the locality. The use of the prevailing wage is to ensure that H-2B workers earn the same wages as a U.S. worker in the same occupation.
  • Dependent spouses or minor children (under 21 years of age) are eligible for an H-4 visa and are permitted to reside with the visa holder. Dependent H-4 visa holders are not authorized for employment, but may study in the U.S.
  • No pathway to obtain a green card or citizenship. H-2B visa holders are not permanent U.S. residents. H-2B workers may obtain a green card through existing avenues – employment, family, or diversity immigrant visas.

For regulations governing H-2B worker protections, click here.


The National Immigration Forum would like to thank Anna Ferri, policy intern, for her extensive contributions to this fact sheet.

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