Trump Admin Plans to Raise Cap of Seasonal Worker Visas to Highest Level Since President Took Office: Report

The Trump administration is reportedly planning to let as many as 45,000 additional seasonal guest workers return to the U.S. this summer, raising the cap to its highest level since President Donald Trump took office.

Citing three unnamed administration officials, The Wall Street Journal said the plan was expected to be announced by the Department of Homeland Security next week.

The seasonal worker program, or H-2B visa program, allows U.S. companies to bring in as many as 66,000 foreign workers a year, with workers filling gaps in jobs including in the landscaping, restaurant and hotel industries.

The Department of Homeland Security is permitted by Congress to raise the cap by as many as 64,000 additional visas. However, in Trump's first two years in office, the cap was only raised by 15,000 visas to 81,000, while last year, it was doubled to 30,000, bringing numbers to 96,000.

It is not yet clear whether the Trump administration is committed to plans to change the cap. However, in a statement to The Journal in the lead-up to the newspaper's story, a DHS spokesperson said acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf had "made no decision yet on the issue."

"Any numbers reported on at this time are being pushed to press by junior staff who are not privy to all of the discussions taking place," they said.

Newsweek has contacted the DHS for comment.

DHS
The Department of Homeland Security main office is shown January 8, 2010 in Washington, D.C. The DHS could be set to raise its cap on foreign worker visas. Win McNamee/Getty

If the plan does move forward, however, the release of seasonal worker visas are expected to be staggered, with the first 20,000 to be immediately available, while companies can apply for the rest starting on June 1.

The development comes following reporting from Politico that Trump administration officials were working to pursue a deal on seasonal worker visas that would appeal to the business community.

The administration had been holding talks with senators on how to make the visa program work for company owners, while still committing to Trump's key campaign promise to reduce immigration to the U.S.

As Politico notes, raising the cap on seasonal worker visas could risk upsetting Trump's base. Particularly with an election on the horizon, the decision may come as a shock to some of the president's most ardent supporters.

In a statement to Politico, RJ Hauman, the government relations director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates for reducing the number of immigrants in the country, said he could not "wrap my head around why some Republican senators and administration officials are urging President Trump to embrace a guest worker expansion in an election year."

Businesses and lawmakers will likely welcome the progress, however, with 189 Democrats and Republicans signing a letter asking the DHS to raise the seasonal worker cap to the full amount available, 130,000, this year.

In a statement sent to Newsweek, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine), who helped lead the effort, said the issue "is a national problem that costs American jobs, and is hampering economic stability for our seasonal businesses."

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates the number of visas issued for non-agricultural seasonal workers in the U.S.

Seasonal Workers Cap Statista
Number of visas issued for non-agricultural seasonal workers. Statista

This article was updated to include an infographic and a statement from Sen. Angus King.