Trump administration increases visas for temporary workers

Sean Spicer denies the surprise move undermines president’s America First policy

US president Donald Trump. The Trump administration has increased the number of H-2B visas available to foreign temporary workers for this year. Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

US president Donald Trump. The Trump administration has increased the number of H-2B visas available to foreign temporary workers for this year. Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

 

 The Trump administration has increased the number of H-2B visas available to foreign temporary workers for this year, in a surprise move that appears to run against Mr Trump’s America First policy.

The Department of Homeland Security on Monday confirmed that the number of visas which apply to low-skilled workers would be increased by 15,000 to 81,000 for the remainder of the year – a 45 per cent increase. It follows calls by some businesses that they are unable to find seasonal workers to fill certain posts, mainly in the restaurant, construction and fishing industries.

It is understood that very few Irish citizens take up the visas which are mainly allocated to workers from central and south America.

Thousands of Irish students are working in the US this summer under the long-standing J1 visa programme. An extra 2,600 visas were provided to Irish students for 2017, the US embassy announced earlier this year.

Outlining details of the expanded H-2B scheme on Monday, Department of Homeland Security officials said that businesses who apply for the visas must show that they would suffer permanent “irreparable harm” if they did not have access to foreign workers.

‘America Made’ day

As the expanded visa programme was announced, the White House marked the inaugural “America Made” day. Products from the 50 American states were on display in the grounds and inside the White House.

Press secretary Sean Spicer denied that the move to increase the number of H-2B visas undermined Mr Trump’s America First policy. “We depend in this country for so many goods and services, some of which are made in America, some of which aren’t,” he said at the White House press briefing.

Ahead of a decision on sanctions on Iran, Mr Spicer refused to be drawn on the White House’s thinking on the matter. An announcement by the State Department was expected late on Monday.

Obamacare

Meanwhile, negotiations on the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare continued on Capitol Hill, amid growing signs that the Senate’s proposed bill is running into difficulties.

The details of the proposal will come into the spotlight on Tuesday when the Congressional Budget Office is expected to publish its analysis of the latest Republican plan. The CBO, a federal body that provides Congress with budgetary analyses of policy proposals, estimated that a previous version of the plan would leave 22 million Americans uninsured.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell was forced to delay a debate on his party’s latest version of the American Healthcare Act following confirmation that Senator John McCain will be absent from Congress this week due to eye surgery at the weekend.

The veteran senator and presidential hopeful had a two-inch blood clot removed from above his eye on Friday, a procedure that some medical commentators have said could be more serious than initially reported and may leave him incapacitated for a few weeks.

‘Active on the phone’

Senate Republicans were already struggling to secure the requisite support for the bill that has emerged as one of the most contentious policy issues for Republicans.

Despite their visceral opposition to former president Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act over the past seven years, the Republican Party has been struggling to forge a united position on how best to replace it.

Asked if the president had done enough to encourage Republican support for the bill, Mr Spicer said on Monday that Mr Trump was actively engaged. “He is very active on the phone . . . He will be meeting senators tonight. We are continuing those discussions. The president is going to be engaged, he’s going to get this done.”

He added that there was “no one better than Mitch McConnell” on knowing “when and how” to make this bill successful. “The president will do whatever he has to to support his efforts.”