H-2B: the Visa Application Process
Step One: (30-60 day process, should be initiated at least 120 days prior to date of need)
Employers must obtain a Prevailing Wage Determination from the National Prevailing Wage Center to establish the wage which must be offered to H-2B and U.S. corresponding workers. The wage must equal or exceed the highest of the prevailing wage, applicable Federal minimum wage, the State minimum wage, or local minimum wage for the described job (‘occupation’) in the area of intended employment during the entire period of the approved H-2B labor certification. The wage level, referred to as the “H-2B mean wage,” is classified as level three, resulting in wages that significantly exceed the federal minimum wage. The process of receiving a PWD averages 3-4 weeks and can take up to two months. The FY20 nationwide average H-2B wage rate for landscaping and grounds keeping workers is $14.81 an hour.
Step Two: (Can be filed 90-75 days prior to date of need, but due to the insufficient number of visas, a majority of applications are filed immediately after the 90 day filing window opens.)
Employers file a job order with a State Workforce Agency (SWA) and submit the H-2B application to the Chicago National Processing Center (CNPC).
Step Three: (Time frame varies depending on DOL’s timeliness)
The SWA and CNPC review the application and the job order for completeness and compliance with program requirements. DOL is obligated to tell employers if their application has been accepted for processing within seven business days (“Notice of Acceptance’), otherwise it issues a Notice of Deficiency (NOD).
Step Four: (Recruitment activities begin with the Notice of Acceptance and continues until 21 days prior to the date of need)
After their application is accepted, employers recruit American workers for the job, including posting online with the State Workforce Agency and on USDOL’s Public Job Registry, through internal job postings at the place of employment as well as contacting former employees.
Step Five: (DOL endeavors to certify cases at least 30 days before the start date, but it depends in large part on when the Notice of Acceptance is issued, since recruitment activities must be completed prior to certification.)
If American workers are hired, DOL reduces the number of H-2B workers an employer can petition for equal to the number of American workers hired. The Department of Labor then issues an approved ETA 9142 labor certification attesting that no willing, qualified or able American workers could be found for the remaining H-2B positions. The employer then may proceed to file an I-129 non- immigrant visa application with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) which costs $2,110 per application.
Step Six: (With premium processing, USCIS action must occur within 15 calendar days. CIS can issue a Request For Evidence which results in delay. USCIS has up to 15 additional days to approve or deny upon receipt of an RFE response. If a case is denied, an appeal must be filed within 30 days and USCIS charges $675.)
USCIS reviews the petition to confirm the temporary nature of the employment opportunity and other details of employment validity. Once approved, USCIS notifies the U.S. embassies and consulates in the countries from which the employer seeks to hire H-2B workers.
Step Seven: (The DOS charges a $190 ‘machine readable visa’ (MRV) fee to each visa applicant. This must be paid by the employer. If working with a third party to recruit or coordinate foreign workers, the employer must bear the cost of any services. Typical turnaround time for an appointment in Monterrey, Mexico is 7-14 days out from the date the appointment is requested.
Once an employer has recruited the foreign worker they want to hire and the appointment has been made, the worker applies for an H-2B visa at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in his or her home country. The Department of State interviews the applicants and conducts background security checks. Once a visa is issued, the employees travel at the employer’s expense to the United States to be hired for work. Employers must pay for the I-94 card ($6), cost of travel, daily subsistence (meals), and overnight lodging from the worker’s home to the place of employment. Average total cost of bus transportation, subsistence, and lodging for a worker from Mexico is approximately $415 per worker.
Total Costs: An H-2B application represents a single occupation in a geographic area for a set number of workers. Government application fees are not affected by the number of workers. If an employer intends to employ workers in multiple occupations, he would have to file separate applications for each job category (ex. Housekeepers and wait staff)
- USCIS – $2,110 per application
- Department of State – $190 per worker
Application preparation fee – generally ranges from $2,500 to $4,500 per application. Some agents charge a per-worker fee in addition to the base application fee.
- Worker agent fees (assistance with the visa application process in the foreign country) – usually between $50 and $130 per worker
- Worker travel reimbursement (inbound and outbound travel, food and lodging costs for foreign workers and non-local US workers) – ranges from $350 (bus fare to S. states close to the Mexican border) to over $1,000 per worker from non-contiguous countries ex. South Africa
- Border crossing fee $6 per worker
Given the variables of agent fees, transportation costs and worker countries of origin it is hard to generalize but it typically costs between $1,500 and $3,000 per worker in fees and costs to participate in the H-2B program. Employer-paid housing subsidies are another variable which is hard to quantify.