Intense demand for seasonal foreign workers has crashed a federal government website, leaving many employers across the country wondering if they’ll be able to hire those workers. Some Chicago businesses rely on temporary seasonal workers, including landscapers and other service workers.
H-2B visas are for low-skilled seasonal foreign workers in nonagricultural jobs. There are only 33,000 such visas available nationwide. Employers submitted three times as many applications for eligible workers with those visas in one day, crashing the website through which employers submit their applications.
On Jan. 2, the U.S. Department of Labor, which certifies each application before they are forwarded to immigration services, posted an update on its website promising to fix the problem this week.
Not having the website available to submit applications has many immigration attorneys frustrated. Mercedes Badia-Tavas, an immigration attorney who represents companies around Chicago wanting to hire seasonal workers, said due to the crash, she had to submit one of her client’s application in person. Without the certification from the labor department, companies can’t continue the process.
And since there’s such high demand for these workers, employers file their applications early in an effort to secure certification before the visas reach their capacity.
“Practitioners were online and employers themselves ready to file these applications. The system got overloaded and there was no access,” Badia-Tavas said.
Demand for these visas has increased dramatically. As a result, the labor department has to time the receipt of employer filings. The Department of Labor received 25 percent more applications in fiscal year 2017 than it did the previous fiscal year. And the number of applications submitted in fiscal year 2018 were 5.4 percent higher than the number filed in fiscal year 2017, Bloomberg news reported.
“Putting an arbitrary number on the number of visas available is not a good outcome for our economy and prosperity,” Badia-Tavas said. “I wish our Congress would just reform that aspect of our laws.”
María Ines Zamudio covers immigration for WBEZ. Follow her @mizamudio.