House Republicans are set to approve a must-pass spending bill Thursday that would dramatically reduce the number of visas available next year for seasonal workers like the ones who have been hired at President-elect Donald Trump’s golf courses in Florida.
The measure does not renew a one-year, one-time expansion of the H2B seasonal worker visa program that effectively increased the number of visas available in 2016. It was championed by lawmakers who represent cyclical tourist hubs in places such as the Colorado mountains, the Eastern Shore of Maryland and at Trump’s golf courses at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., and in Jupiter, Fla.
Trump has said that he has used the H2B program to hire workers during the busy season at his Mar-a-Lago resort.
“I’ve hired in Florida during the prime season — you could not get help,” Trump said at a 2015 primary debate sponsored by Telemundo. “Everybody agrees with me on that. They were part-time jobs. You needed them, or we just might as well close the doors, because you couldn’t get help in those hot, hot sections of Florida.”
But the program drew the ire of labor leaders, who excoriated Congress for expanding a program they believe exploits foreign workers, and conservatives who favor keeping the number of available visas in check, which is in line with Trump’s hard-line immigration stance.
The number of H2B visas made available is capped at 66,000 annually. But in fiscal 2016, if seasonal workers had received H2B visa in 2013, 2014 or 2015, their 2016 visa did not count toward that cap. That provision expired at the end of September.
The change means that theoretically, an additional 198,000 H2B visas were available last year for seasonal guest workers, though the Congressional Budget Office said that far fewer workers would actually take advantage of the program.
Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) said Wednesday that the visas are critical for expanding tourism-related jobs, including those for U.S. citizens.
“Without this, many companies in my district would be forced to cut their American workers,” Polis said in a hearing on the legislation. “Without H2B workers there is no role for American supervisors.”
Polis backed a measure offered by Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) that would have restored the expanded visa program. That amendment was ruled out of order and will not be considered when the House votes on Thursday.
Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.