U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it has received enough petitions to meet the congressionally mandated H-2B cap for the second half of fiscal year (FY) 2019. February 19, 2019, was the final receipt date for new cap-subject H-2B temporary nonagricultural worker petitions requesting an employment start date before October 1, 2019. USCIS will reject new cap-subject H-2B petitions received after February 19 that request an employment start date before October 1, 2019.

On February 19, the number of beneficiaries USCIS received petitions for surpassed the total number of remaining H-2B visas available for the H-2B cap for the second half of FY 2019. In accordance with regulations, USCIS said it determined that it was necessary to use a computer-generated process, commonly known as a lottery, to ensure the fair and orderly allocation of
H-2B visa numbers to meet, but not exceed, the remainder of the FY 2019 cap. On February 21, USCIS conducted a lottery to randomly select petitions from those received on February 19. As a result, USCIS assigned all petitions selected in the lottery the receipt date of February 22. Premium processing service for petitions selected in the lottery also began on that date.

USCIS continues to accept H-2B petitions that are exempt from the congressionally mandated cap. This includes petitions for:

  • Current H-2B workers in the United States petitioning to extend their stay and, if applicable, change the terms of their employment or change their employers;
  • Fish roe processors, fish roe technicians, and/or supervisors of fish roe processing; and
  • Workers performing labor or services in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and/or Guam from November 28, 2009, until December 31, 2029.

Congress has set the H-2B cap at 66,000 per fiscal year, with 33,000 for workers who begin employment in the first half of the fiscal year and 33,000 for workers who begin employment in the second half of the fiscal year plus any unused numbers from the first half of the fiscal year, if any. However, unused H-2B numbers from one fiscal year do not carry over into the next, USCIS explained.

Also, a new letter sent on February 22, 2019, from the H-2B Workforce Coalition urges the Department of Homeland Security to add H-2B numbers as authorized by the Fiscal 2019 Consolidated Appropriations Act. The 40-page letter, endorsed by hundreds of employers and organizations, notes:

Without immediate action, many employers across the country will be without the critical workforce they need to operate this spring and summer. These businesses will not be able to fulfill contracts. They will be forced to turn away customers and may need to lay off American workers whose jobs are supported by H-2B workers. In some cases, they will be compelled to shut down their operations entirely. … The H-2B program is essential to employers who cannot find local temporary workers to fill jobs in seafood processing, horse training, hospitality and amusement parks, forestry, landscaping, circuses, carnivals, food concessionaires, swimming pool maintenance, golf courses, stone quarries and other seasonal industries. These seasonal businesses need H-2B workers to supplement their American workforce. The H-2B program relies on well-vetted returning workers who come to the U.S. for seasonal employment and then go home. These workers are not immigrants. They provide an opportunity for U.S. businesses to operate at a greater capacity, retain their full-time workers and contribute to their local economy.

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