Overview of the basics of the H-2B Visa Program

H 2b visa program is a guest worker program that allows employers to hire foreign workers for temporary non-agricultural jobs. Such foreign workers are temporary workers, and the nature of the jobs under h 2b visa programs is seasonal and of one-time occurrence.

Usually, the workers are hired on terms of an intermittent need or peak load demand. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the Homeland Security Department (DHS), and the Labor’s Employment and Training Administration Department administer this visa program.

Conditions set forward by the Department of Homeland Security and USCIS must be met by the employers and other concerned companies involved in hiring foreign workers under the H-2B visa programs.

The employer needs to make sure that the nature of the service will be on a temporary basis and should be of recurring nature. The duration of their services will be seasonal and traditionally tied to specific periods of job shortages or peak load needs.

To preserve the rights of U.S. citizens, the employer needs to make sure that he regularly employs permanent workers and that the foreign workers act as a supplement only. Foreign h 2b workers meet the short term temporary demands and do not become an official part of regular operations. As soon as the immigration services of these temporary workers complete their tenure, they are deported from the states.

Number of Visas Granted in a Year:

The number of H-2B employees hired annually is capped by law. The current yearly capping is 66,000 every fiscal year, out of which 33,000 granted in the first half from October till March and the rest issued in the second half from April till September.

Congress enacted a funding measure in 2018 that authorizes the government to grant more H-2B visas depending on employer requirement with reference to the number issued last year, possibly tripling the figure of visas issued.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen approved 15,000 extra H-2B visas in May as a consequence of the increasing demand for foreign workers from firms.

Conditions applied to Foreign Nationals Working under H-2B:

H-2B visa comes with some conditions and terms of the agreement:

  1. H-2B workers, having an approved foreign labor certification, need to be sponsored by some employer who will file a petition for their visas.
  2. Visa cannot be transferred between different employers. IF the H-2B visa holder wishes to switch for a similar position but under a new employer, then ETA Form 750 should be submitted and he needs to reapply for a H-2B visa from the scratch.
  3. The foreign workers receive the prevailing wage rate. Such use of prevailing wage makes sure that the H-2B temporary workers are being paid the same amount of wages as the U.S. employed permanent workers.
  4. Spouses and minor children, below the age of 21, of H-2B visa holders, are eligible to apply for H-4 visas and can live with the worker in the States. They cannot get any form of employment; however, they are eligible to study.
  5. Citizenship cannot be attained through such guest worker programs and thus are not regarded as U.S. residents.
  6. Deportation from the States as soon as the service tenure is over. During the application process, the worker needs to prove that he will return to his homeland.

Industries where H-2B temporary workers are Employed:

Now that we have an overview of the H-2B program, let’s have a deeper insight into the industries offering jobs and occupations to the H-2B holders.

A huge number of widespread industries offer job opportunities to the foreign temporary workers hired through the H-2B visa program. Landscaping and groundskeeping make up 40 percent of the total jobs offered. Forestry comprising eight percent of the H-2B jobs, serves as the second-largest industry.

Other industries include amusement/recreation, construction, meat/fish processing, restaurants, hospitability etc.

What jobs are offered under an H-2B visa?

The majority of H-1B temporary workers are landscaping or forestry workers. Half of these people have various occupation roles such as cooks, waitresses, food processing, maids, dishwasher, hotel staff, housekeepers, travel carnival staff or even entertainers and sports.

Top 15 H-2B occupations in FY2014:

Given below is a list of the top 15 H-2B occupations, along with the figures representing the labour certificates issued in the year 2014 all over the United States:

  1. Landscaping and groundskeeping workers 34,159
  2. Forest and conservation workers 6,753
  3. Amusement and recreation attendants 5,447
  4. Maids and housekeeping cleaners 5,014
  5. Meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers 2,921
  6. Construction laborers 2,407
  7. Coaches and scouts 1,693
  8. Waiters and waitresses 1,649
  9. Nonfarm animal caretakers 1,409
  10. Fishers and related fishing workers 1,227
  11. Helpers—production workers 1,221
  12. Cooks, restaurant 1,1201
  13. Packers and packagers, hand 1,026
  14. Food preparation workers 992
  15. Dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartenders 940

In fiscal 2014, the top 15 occupations accounted for 67,978 labour certificates out of a total of 83,843 certifications, or 81 per cent of all labour certifications.

Industries with Higher Prevalence of H-2B workers:

Landscaping and Groundskeeping Employees are by far the most common occupation, comprising 34,159 workers in fiscal 2014, or 40.7 per cent of all H-2B labour certifications.

Forest and Conservation Workers are the second most common occupation, with 6,753 credentials. Nearly half of all H-2B certifications were for the top two H-2B jobs combined. Maids and Housekeeping Cleaners and Amusement and Recreation Attendants were the third and fourth most popular H-2B jobs, accounting for around 6% of all H-2B certificates.

Meat, Poultry, Fish Cutters and Trimmers accounted for 3.5 per cent of the total certifications and were the fifth-largest industry, while Construction Laborers made up 2.9 per cent of the certifications issued and were the sixth-largest occupational industry for H-2B holders in the year 2014.

Educational requirements for H-2B Occupations:

Minimum criteria of skills and education are required by the above mentioned top 15 H-2B occupations. These jobs do not demand any specific training.

The Occupational Information Network (ONET), administered by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA), highlight the exact details and background information for each of the industries offering jobs. A ‘Job Zone’ is assigned to each occupation. This Job Zone is a number that represents the occupations having similar conditioning of training, experience and education.

Out of the 15 topmost occupations, nine of them fall under Job Zone 1, four of the jobs are given the Job Zone 2, one falls under Job Zone 3, and one in the Job Zone 4.

The degree requirement for different Job Zones:

As listed by ONET, Job Zone 1 asks for a high school diploma. The workers need not have years of experience; training of a few days to a few months will do enough. For Job Zone 2 Occupations, a high school diploma with some experience and knowledge is required.

Since most of the jobs simply ask for a high school diploma or its equivalent and no other educational degree is required, it can be concluded that the jobs offered by these industries are low-skilled ones.

Top H-2B Occupations in FY2020:

Overall, the occupation with the most H-2B labour certifications in FY2020 was landscaping and groundskeeping employees, with nearly 74,000 authorized labour certifications (around 46 per cent of all granted certifications).

Forest and conservation employees are a distant second group, with roughly 11,000 qualified labour certificates. Geographically, Texas had the most H-2B labour certifications, with roughly 19,000, while New York rounded out the top ten states with about 5,000 H-2B labour certifications.

High-Demand for H-2B Workers in Industries:

The industries that offer the most number of jobs to h-2B workers are in accordance with the industry-dominating in a state.

High-Demand in Seafood Industry in the State of Alaska:

The seafood industry is the most prevalent industry in the State of Alaska, which accounts for the maximum employment of H-2B visas holders as fish cutters and trimmers. Alaska’s seafood industry accounts for 60 per cent of the U.S. commercial fisheries.

With its significant contribution to the economy of the States, it creates a number of job vacancies. Filling them with American workers can be a real challenge, and that’s when H-2B temporary worker comes in handy.

The high demand for temporary labor in other industries such as landscaping ad groundskeeping in easily accessible locations can deprive Alaska of getting enough workers to balance out the employment situation.

With the limited number of H-2B workers coupled with the high demand in different industries results in a competitive process across the entire country to get the maximum figures of foreign workers.

Increasing the visa grants to meet the high demand:

Even in the most popular field for H-2B visas, landscaping and groundskeeping, the H-2B quota has resulted in a backlog of seasonal landscaping job applications, particularly in years when the U.S. economy has been robust, and demand for foreign temporary employees has soared.

According to the National Association of Landscape Professionals, even the 15,000 more visas given by DHS, which is more than the maximum in previous years, is not always enough to meet the demand for foreign guest workers, as was the case in 2018.

Forestry and Conservation Industries:

Forest and Conservation are the second-highest demand job, as proven by the statistics. In the fiscal year 2016, it was one of the top three occupations. According to Forest Resources Association, the designated jobs for reforestation are taken up by only 2 % of the American workers, while the rest is taken up by H 2b visa holders as temporary work.

Other Minor Industries:

The landscaping and groundskeeping industry sequesters most of the H-2B workers. However, there are other minor industries as well, which altogether play a potent role in the economic growth of the state and hiring other workers.

In Vermont State, H2-B workers usually work in the hospitality industry that involves hotels, motels, and resorts.

Maids and housekeeping cleaners, chefs and cafeteria workers, and waiters and waitresses were the top three jobs sponsored under the H-2B visa program in Vermont in FY2016. Furthermore, owing to the semi-annual issuance of H-2B visas, Vermont, which relies on tourism as a key source of revenue all year, has struggled to satisfy seasonal labour demands.

For example, in FY2019, Immigration Authorities announced that the H-2B cap for that fiscal year had been reached on February 19, 2019, and that any remaining H-2B employment requests under the cap required employers to begin before October 1, 2019, would be denied, leaving many employers without the summer seasonal help they needed.

Contribution of H-2B Workers to State’s Economic Growth:

The contribution of h 2b workers to the U.S. economy is worth mentioning. Such foreign temporary workers not only fill the job shortages, thereby aiding in the stability of labour employment but also correlate with higher wages and economic growth.

As reported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an increase of 1 per cent in the number of h 2b workers resulted in an increase of 0.05 per cent in the wages. A sudden rise in job opportunities is also reported. What makes this h 2b program successful is that it does not affect the permanent workers, neither it robs the U.S. citizens of job vacancies.


Whatever issues experts on both sides of the H-2B debate may have, it is reasonable to say that if administered properly, the program can be a win-win scenario for migrants, businesses, and the U.S. economy. The H-2B program is also one of the few ways for foreign employees, particularly those from underdeveloped countries, to get access to the American labour market, therefore improving their life at home and reducing illegal border crossings.

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