Hungry to meet seasonal hiring goals, U.S. employers requested more than 96,000 H-2B visas in New Year's Day--this despite experiencing plenty of headaches in the process.

The Department of Labor recently announced the blockbuster figure, which was first reported as 97,800 and then later revised to 96,400--well surpassing last year's record of 81,600 petitions on New Year's Day--to explain why its online processing system, called iCERT, crashed earlier this month. The H-2B visa, which grants work-authorization to immigrants on a temporary basis, is typically used by seasonal businesses, like resorts or landscaping companies. And it is more popular than ever. 

"The legacy iCERT System experienced a failure preventing applications for H-2B temporary labor certifications from being submitted to the Department," said the Labor Department in a statement, attributing the crash to an "an unprecedented volume of simultaneous system users" on January 1, 2019.  

The agency added that it received 30 times more user requests on January 1 2019 than it did on the first day of 2018. New Year's Day is the first day business owners were able to apply for the 33,000 H-2B visas available for the six-month period beginning April 1. The visas, which are capped at 66,000 annually, are typically granted on a first come, first serve basis twice a year. The site glitches, which were first reported by the The Wall Street Journal, have left it operational for just five out of the first 10 days of 2019.

Those who've suspected that the ongoing partial government shutdown might be the culprit are not correct, however. The Department of Labor, which manages the iCERT system, is fully funded through September 2019. The website should be glitch-free now, according to the agency, and it is continuing to accept H-2B visa petitions through January 16.

Swelling demand for seasonal immigrant workers caught the agency off guard, even though it's been rising sharply in recent years as the labor market has tightened. This time last year, the agency also received an unprecedented number of requests, which were three times greater than the year before. The uptick in interest is why the Labor Department changed its process last year; now an employer's application is reviewed according to the exact time it was filed, down to the millisecond. 

"Ultimately, the goal is to hire locally," says Mike Williams, lodging manager at Royal Anchor, a family-owned seashore resort in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. "But it's impossible for a seasonal business that is only open for six months." The resort has been struggling to hire employees for the last five years, Williams says. This will be the fourth time Royal Anchor has had to tap into the H-2B workforce to fill its open positions--five for 2019. "Nobody is looking for a summer job anymore," he adds.  

Published on: Jan 11, 2019