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Koch groups call on administration to release all temporary worker visas

Two groups within conservative mega-donor Charles Koch's political network called on the Biden administration Thursday to release all the temporary worker visas allocated by Congress for fiscal 2021.

In a letter to Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenBlinken speaks with Israeli counterpart amid escalating conflict Biden sent letter to Palestinian president over 'current situations' Asian American lawmakers say State's 'assignment restrictions' discriminate MORE, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro MayorkasAlejandro MayorkasUS officials testify on domestic terrorism in wake of Capitol attack DHS establishes domestic terror unit within its intelligence office Overnight Energy: Southeast sees gas shortages amid pipeline shutdown | Feds eye more oversight of pipelines after Colonial attack | Biden administration approves major offshore wind project MORE and Secretary of Labor Marty WalshMarty WalshOn The Money: Biden says workers can't turn down job and get benefits | Treasury launches state and local aid | Businesses jump into vax push Former AFL-CIO official tapped to lead Labor Department division Biden: Workers can't turn down job and get benefits MORE, the presidents of Americans for Prosperity and the Libre Initiative asked for the release of 64,000 additional H-2B visas.

"After months of a steady recovery, U.S. employers added over 900,000 jobs in March alone, the fastest rate of monthly growth since last August," wrote Daniel Garza, president of the Libre Initiative, and Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity.

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"But even with this good news, thousands of businesses are at risk of being left behind as they struggle to find enough workers, and current plans to release just 22,000 of the additional visas are inadequate for meeting America’s labor needs," they added.

The H-2B program allows for nonagricultural seasonal or surge workers to enter the United States and work for their sponsoring employer.

The program requires employers to certify their need for foreign labor with the Department of Labor, while the Department of Homeland Security issues the work permit, and State provides consular services to applicants abroad.

Representatives for the three departments did not immediately return requests for comment on the letter. 

According to Garza and Phillips, U.S. employers requested 96,000 H-2B applications in the first half of fiscal 2021. That means demand for foreign labor exceeded the total available number of visas by 250 percent.

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"Some of the businesses most heavily affected include those located in small towns and rural areas, where hiring options are already extremely limited," wrote Garza and Phillips. 

Still, the administration has yet to announce whether it will release all the statutorily allowed H-2B visas, even as the economy rebounds and the unemployment rate shrinks.

The Biden administration has generally been cautious in announcing upticks in the number of foreign nationals it will allow in the country, as the number of asylum seekers at the southern border continues to increase.

Just last week, the White House's announcement that it would maintain a 15,000 refugee cap for fiscal 2021 was met with anger by Democrats, who quickly forced the administration to reconsider its position — a new refugee cap will be announced by May 15.

And the slow movement on existing legal avenues of immigration comes as the administration is promoting expanding legal immigration channels as part of its toolkit to combat irregular migration in the Western Hemisphere.

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Garza and Phillips wrote that the H-2B program has been an economic booster not just for employers and foreign workers, but to many of the communities where the visas are commonly used.

"A report from the Government Accountability Office found that Americans who live in counties with H-2B employers are paid an average of $113 more in weekly wages and had lower unemployment than Americans in counties where the program was not used," wrote Garza and Phillips.

"Previous research has also found that for every additional 100 H-2B workers, 464 jobs are created for Americans," they added.