AILA Applauds House Hearing on “Examining the Role of the Lower-Skilled Guest Worker Programs in Today’s Economy”

Thursday, March 14, 2013
George Tzamaras or  Belle Woods
202-507-7649    -    202-507-7675 -

Washington, DC - The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) applauds the efforts of the House Education and the Workforce Committee's Subcommittee on Workforce Protections as it conducts a hearing today entitled, "Examining the Role of Lower-Skilled Guest Worker Programs in Today's Economy." As Congress is poised to address much needed immigration reforms, today's hearing should provide important information regarding the importance of a sufficient supply of workers in all skill levels to make our nation's economy function at peak performance. Congress must find the right balance between valid labor concerns and legitimate business needs. Without fair and robust immigration avenues to fill workforce needs throughout the skills spectrum, America is at a competitive disadvantage.

Currently, there are limited avenues through which "Essential Workers" - workers employed in unskilled or semi-skilled occupations in all sectors of our economy - can enter. Essential workers include, for example, restaurant workers, retail clerks, carpenters, plumbers, roofers, manufacturing line workers, hotel service workers, food production workers, landscape workers, and health care aides. These individuals often work in the difficult jobs that increasingly many Americans no longer choose, but which are "essential" to keep our economy growing.

One of the few avenues that does exist for a worker who is not considered a highly-skilled worker to enter the U.S. is the H-2B Nonagricultural Temporary Worker Program. For a U.S. employer to hire an H-2B worker, a multitude of steps must be taken:

  • Recruit U.S. workers under the direction of the State Workforce Agency and receive certification that an insufficient number of American workers were willing and able to fill the vacant positions;
  • Apply for certification of need at the federal level from the U.S. Department of Labor;
  • File with the Department of Homeland Security applications and fees for H-2B workers; and,
  • Obtain approval for H-2B visas from the U.S. State Department.

At the end of the work season, the H-2B workers must go home. The H-2B visa program is capped at 66,000 visas per year. This number has not been adjusted since the visa category was initially capped in 1990. Small and seasonal businesses have every incentive to hire any qualified American who applies for a seasonal or temporary short-term position. Nevertheless, even in this economy, positions remain unfilled, leaving these businesses desperately in need of workers.

While the H-2B visa is a vital source of workers for certain industries, the U.S. economy also needs a new essential worker visa, because the H-2B visa does not allow sufficient numbers of essential workers in annually for employers whose needs go beyond the parameters set by the H-2B visa. The lack of this type of visa is a root cause of our current undocumented immigration situation. Even if we provide a path to citizenship for everyone here today, this would do nothing to stop others from coming illegally tomorrow unless we can create legal avenues for these needed, wanted essential workers to enter lawfully. AILA hopes that today's hearing will bring Congress closer to understanding the critical need for a workable essential worker visa.


The American Immigration Lawyers Association is the national association of immigration lawyers established to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice, and enhance the professional development of its members.

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 13031440.