The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has reached the 66,000 congressionally mandated H-2B cap for the first half of fiscal year 2019, but the federal agency will continue accepting petitions from Guam and the CNMI.
Cap exemptions apply to petitions for foreign workers who are recruited for projects associated with the military buildup on Guam. Under the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, the USCIS is allowed to issue up to 4,000 H-2B visas for defense-related work.
The NDAA authorizes $448.5 million for military construction projects on Guam to support the ongoing progress of the Marine realignment including $75.6 million for X-Ray Wharf Improvements. The law fully authorizes $141 million for a machine gun range with half authorized to be spent in fiscal year 2019.
In the CNMI, labor visa cap exemption is authorized under the Northern Mariana Islands U.S. Workforce Act of 2018, which extends the CW program through Dec. 31, 2029. The law also raises the CW-1 cap for 2019 from 4,999 to 13,000.
The USCIS said other exemptions apply to current H-2B workers in the United States petitioning to extend their stay and, if applicable, change the terms of their employment or change their employers; and fish roe processors, fish roe technicians, and/or supervisors of fish roe processing.
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Dec. 6 was the deadline for new cap-subject H-2B worker petitions requesting an employment start date before April 1, 2019.
“On Dec. 6, the number of beneficiaries USCIS had received petitions for surpassed the total number of H-2B visas available for the H-2B cap for the first half of FY 2019,” USCIS said in a press release. “In accordance with regulations, USCIS determined it was necessary to use a computer-generated process, commonly known as a lottery, to ensure the fair and orderly allocation of H-2B visa numbers to meet, but not exceed, the cap for the first half of FY 2019.”
The USCIS on Dec. 11 conducted a lottery to randomly select petitions received on Dec. 6. “As a result, USCIS assigned all petitions selected in the lottery the receipt date of Dec. 11. Premium processing service for petitions selected in the lottery also began on that date,” it said.
Currently, Congress has set the H-2B cap at 66,000 per fiscal year, with 33,000 for workers who begin employment in the first half of the fiscal year from Oct.1 to March 31; and 33,000 for workers who begin employment in the second half from April 1 to Sept. 30.
Clarification: Catherine Cruz Norton, public affairs officer for NAVFAC Marianas submitted the following clarification:
Page 3 of a USCIS memo dated Oct. 1, 2018 states, "The NDAA also amends this provision by extending its effectiveness by close to three months and by eliminating the numerical limitation (or "cap") that had previously been established for each fiscal year from 2018 through 2023, by which not more than 4,000 H-2B workers could be admitted annually to Guam or the CNMI pursuant to the exemption from the temporary need requirement that generally applies to H-2B nonimmigrants."