Myth- the H-2B program is about cheap labor

The H-2B program is neither easy nor cheap. Employers choose to utilize the program because they cannot find sufficient domestic labor and they are unwilling to break the law by hiring unauthorized workers.

H-2B program users are committed to a legal workforce. This commitment comes at significant cost. Employers must pay all fees and costs associated with getting foreign workers to the United States. Annual, recurring costs include:

  • $2,050 visa petition application fee charged by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
  • $190 per worker fee charged by State Department for ‘machine readable visas’ (MRVs) and $6 border crossing fee
  • $50-130 or more per worker agent fees if a third party is utilized to recruit or coordinate the visa application process for H-2B foreign workers (rates vary by agent)
  • $415 or more in travel costs per worker including bus ticket, meals and overnight lodging from the worker’s home to the place of employment (costs vary by country)
  • $2,500-4,000 agent fee for the 95.7% of H-2B employers who use an agent to file their application. Some agents also charge a per-worker fee in addition to the base application fee

Given the above, it costs employers from $1,500 and $3,000 per worker to use the H-2B program. These costs and fees are in addition to the DOL-required H-2B prevailing wage rate. All told, administrative costs typically add an additional $1-$3 per hour to the mandated wage the employers must pay, bringing the real cost of employing H-2B workers well above what it would cost to hire US workers. There are no ‘savings’ in utilizing the H-2B program.

Kansas City metro area landscaper wage rate


USDOL regulations require H2B employers to pay above the Level 3 Wage Rate for the job and location of work, regardless of experience (Level 3 wages). H2B wage rates have increased 30% or more in the past three years. (In most states, the mandatory starting labor rates for both U.S. and H-2B employees are more than 75% higher than minimum wage.)

Employers bear other mandatory costs including the H2B workers’ round-trip transportation, travel subsistence costs and State Dept. visa application fees. They also pay the USCIS visa petition fee, advertising costs and program agent fees totaling on average over $1,500 per worker per year. This adds an additional $1.50 to $2.50 an hour to labor costs.

“If you only paid more”…. With labor often being the largest cost of H2B employers’ budgets, and competing against those who hire unauthorized workers, H2B using companies are squeezed on what they can charge customers while paying more and more for labor. Price and Quality are the main purchase decision drivers for customers. A legal workforce is rarely a criterion.

Myth- H-2B workers abuse U.S. welfare programs

H2B workers pay taxes including social security, Medicare, and are subject to state and federal income tax withholding. H2B employers pay state and federal unemployment compensation programs. H2B are not eligible to collect welfare or unemployment benefits. In contrast, employers employing unauthorized workers for cash pay none of these costs – adding to their cost advantage.

Myth- H-2B workers contribute to chain migration

They are permitted to stay in the United States for a maximum of ten months but then must return home every year. They do not bring in their spouses and/or families.