If your hotel in the U.S. experiences major swings in demand based on the season you might be the ideal candidate for the H-2B Work Visa Program.

As the U.S. hospitality industry looks ahead to a strong post-pandemic summer, finding qualified and motivated seasonal staff during the peaks of business is challenging, to say the least. Demand is forecasted to come back in full force this year, and employers will need a multi-pronged approach to staffing. The H-2B Work Visa Program can be a powerful part of that plan.

What is the H-2B Work Visa Program?

The H-2B nonimmigrant program permits U.S. employers to temporarily hire nonimmigrants to perform nonagricultural labor or services in the United States. The key is that the employment must be temporary and limited to no longer than nine months. This should correspond to a one-time occurrence, seasonal need, or intermittent need. 

Because this program is complex and involves working with the U.S. Department of Labor and the Department of Homeland Security, it is best for employers who anticipate making the H-2B a long-term element of their seasonal recruitment and hotel human resources strategy

There are several important guidelines and regulations to follow, and the first one is that the employer must attest and verify that despite considerable recruitment efforts, they cannot find U.S. workers to fill these seasonal positions. Setting up an H-2B Work Visa program for your hotel or portfolio is not for the faint of heart and requires determination and patience, but the benefits to your business, workers and the economy are worth it.

What types of hotels use the program?

While U.S. employers typically prefer to hire local employees, the fact is that there are not enough U.S. individuals looking for a temporary, seasonal job to fill the thousands of jobs available in several industries, such as hospitality, landscaping, forestry, amusements and fish processors. As a result, the H-2B Work Visa Program augments U.S. seasonal workers for high demand periods, rather than replacing long-term workforces.

This program is often used in resort hotels that experience significant seasonal variation in their business levels each year. It can provide seasonal workers for both summer and winter, depending on the geographical area of the property. For example, ski resorts have long used this program to help with seasonal staffing needs for the winter, while beach hotels and resorts use it to fill positions in the summer. Workers on the visa are able to return to the same property year after year, so they are experienced, trained in their positions, and ready to hit the ground running.   

The number of H-2B Work Visas is capped at 66,000 on an annual basis, with half of those available each half of the year. Typically, there is higher demand for H-2Bs in the second half of the year (April – September in the federal government fiscal year calendar), so employers have faced “cap limits” where too many applications have translated into a shortfall of available visas. Industry organizations are lobbying at all levels to communicate the need for these seasonal workers, but until the rules change, it’s important to start this process early.

How has COVID impacted the H-2B program?

While the H-2B Work Visa Program was restricted during the pandemic, this restriction expired March 31, 2021, allowing the program to resume. This is good news for the industries, like hospitality, that rely on the program, but the reality is that there is a huge backlog of applicants for the 2021 season due to closures of consulates, embassies and federal offices due to COVID-19. At the same time, COVID-19 travel restrictions and recent virus variant surges in parts of the globe may slow the reemergence of H-2B workers entering the U.S. 

Don’t be discouraged. Despite these hurdles, the H-2B Work Visa Program is a win-win, enabling U.S. companies to operate at maximum productivity during seasonal months without displacing U.S. workers. Workers using the H-2B return year after year, creating an experienced talent pool for your hotels and resorts. If your property experiences seasonal demand, take the time to put a plan in place for H-2B visa holders to join your workforce.

*This article first appeared in HotelsMag on May 11, 2021