Courtesy Adobe Stock/kuzmafoto

Specialty contractors such as roofers who rely on foreign guest workers to fill seasonal labor shortages may be a bit confused. First reports surfaced of a serious shortage in the number of H-2B visas available compared to the demand — 82,000 applications for 66,000 allotments. Then Congress stepped in and raised the cap to nearly 130,000 visas to seemingly save the day. But, it's still up to the Department of Homeland Security to actually issue the visas. Last year, only 15,000 additional visas were issued.

Uncertainty around the program comes amid some of the worst labor shortages in recent history. With unemployment near just 4%, many specialty contractors are having difficulty meeting the continued demand for remodeling and renovation. For example, the most recent NAHB statistics show that nearly 60% of roofers are facing labor shortages.

While H-2B may be an option, there’s a lot contractors need to understand about the program to determine whether it’s right for them. BUILDER sister site Replacement Contractor contributor Gary Thill presents three key considerations about H-2B:

1. Timing
Businesses that are just starting to think about H-2B visas for this year’s workload are probably coming to the table too late, Moch said. That’s because the lengthy process requires Department of Labor certification along with a number of other applications. Employers must also prove that they’re not able to fill the positions with U.S. employees. “It’s a very rigorous process to get there,” Alexis Moch, federal legislative director for NAHB. said. “You have to have exhausted all options and demonstrate a good faith effort to advertise the position.”

2. Cost
Along with applications come fees including a $460 form and filing fee, not to mention all the time it takes to deal with the government red tape the program requires. “The program is extremely costly and complicated, yet employers turn to it because it is the only way they can hire legal seasonal workers,” said Jim Barr, NRCA’s Chairman and president of Barr Roofing.

3. Uncertainty
Even after jumping through those hoops, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be granted the visas. With an ongoing labor shortage, the demand for H-2B visas rises, and it’s become an annual need for Congress to increase the allotments. “It’s highly competitive and there are no guarantees,” Moch warned.

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