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Oxbow Bend, Snake River

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Impact of H-2B and J-1 Visa Suspensions

Matt Moore

On June 22, 2020, the President signed an executive order suspending certain temporary employment-based visa programs – like the H-2B and J-1 Visa Programs – through December 31, 2020. We know a lot of the employers using CoolWorks rely on different Visa programs, so we wanted to highlight some of the effects of this order and how they may affect staffing through the rest of the year. A few other programs aside from the H-2B and J-1 Visas are affected by the executive order, but today we’re focusing on those programs that we know many of you currently utilize.

H-2B Non-agricultural Labor Visa

The H-2B Visa program issues 66,000 visas a year (sometimes more based on demand), and they are generally valid for 3 years. These visas are popular in the hotel and hospitality industries, among others, and many medium- to large- companies rely on this program for both year-round and seasonal staff. In 2019, the Department of State issued 97,623 new and renewal H-2B visas.

J-1 Cultural and Educational Exchange

The J-1 Visa Program is a very popular program for international students to participate “in an intern, trainee, teacher, camp counselor, au pair, or summer work travel program.” Companies of all sizes in the hospitality, tourism, and travel industries utilize the J-1 Visa Program heavily. In 2019, the State Department issued 353,279 new and renewal J-1 visas.

Anticipated Impact for 2020 Staffing

Because this executive order only affects new Visa issuances, and not renewals, H-2B and J-1 Visa holders who are already in the U.S. will not be affected.

For the summer 2020 season, because of the nationwide shutdowns this spring and the gradual reopening of states’ economies going into the summer months, a large number of businesses have already made reductions to their staffing plans in anticipation of limited operations and lower business levels for this year’s summer operations. So beyond the immediate impact from global travel restrictions that were enacted a few months and effectively halted new Visa entries, the impact on the remaining summer months is likely to be limited.

For the winter 2020 season, for those ski resorts, ranches, lodges, tour operators, outfitters, and other tourism/hospitality businesses who have the green light to operate, a dramatic shift to domestic labor pools is likely to be necessary. Many larger businesses rely heavily on the J-1 Visa program for their seasonal staffing, and these organizations will likely need to pivot their recruiting efforts – as well as their plans for housing and meals – to a domestic-focused approach.

Because of the spike in unemployment as a result of Covid-19 and the ensuing economic shutdown, the domestic labor supply has ballooned in recent months. Here at CoolWorks, we’re seeing a surge in domestic job seekers searching for employment. After an initial dip in jobseeker traffic in March and April at the height of the lockdowns caused by the pandemic, site traffic has spiked and is now exceeding 2019 traffic figures as large numbers of job seekers are now planning their next steps.

Although a number of business and trade groups have already voiced opposition to this executive order and there are likely to be court challenges in the weeks and months ahead, employers should anticipate that these programs will be much less accessible for the remainder of 2020, and begin planning on how to attract, hire, and retain domestic candidates.