Guide to Housing, Wage, Transportation, and Food Requirements for H-2B Visas

Guide to Housing, Wage, Transportation, and Food Requirements for H-2B Visas
The H-2B visa allows U.S. employers to hire foreign guest workers to fill temporary non-agricultural jobs, if the employer cannot find suitable labor domestically. Thisprogram has certain requirements put in place for both the employers and workers related to wages, transportation, food, and housing.
Basic criteria for the H-2B visa includes:
  • All work must be non-agricultural.
  • The work is full-time (at least 35 hours per week or more).
  • It must be temporary, seasonal, intermittent, peak load, or one time occurrence.
The H-2B program is congressionally capped at 66,000 visas per year.
  • 33,000 visas issued on October 1
  • 33,000 visas released on April 1
In the last few years, authorization has been granted to increase the allotment numbers, but businesses cannot depend on the additional visa availability continuing.
About the H-2B Visa
The H-2B visa was designed to meet the temporary worker shortage in certain nonagricultural industries such as:
  • Restaurants
  • Landscaping
  • Construction
  • Retail
  • Hospitality
  • Resorts and theme parks
  • Carnivals
  • Golf courses
  • Warehouses
  • Maintenance and janitorial services
  • Ski resorts
  • Cruise ships
  • Retail
  • Forestry
Landscapers and groundskeepers make up 40% of the H-2B positions. The second largest industry utilizing the H-2B visa program is for forestry workers. Other leading industries that extensively use the H-2B visa program to fill positions include traveling carnivals, amusement parks, meat or fish processors, housekeepers, restaurant workers such as the wait staff or cooks and construction laborers.
The U.S. employer must first initiate the entire H-2B visa hiring process. An employer must show that they have tried to fill the position with a U.S. worker but have been unsuccessful. They must also show that hiring a foreign worker will not negatively impact the wages of U.S. workers or their working conditions.
The job positions for H-2B workers are temporary and cannot become permanent.
All employers of H-2B visa holders agree to provide transportation or transportation expenses into the country to the worksite and back to the visa holder’s home country. They will also provide a stipend which covers food and lodging.
What are the Qualifications for the H-2B Visa Employers and Workers?
For a U.S. employer to qualify for the H-2B visa program, the employer and guest worker must meet certain requirements.

Employer Requirements

In order to use the H-2B visa program, an employer must meet the following requirements:

  • Must be a U.S. employer.
  • The need for the worker must be temporary, one-time, intermittent, seasonal, or peak load. The employer should not be anticipating the need for the guest worker for more than a single year.
  • The employer must show that they have tried to fill the position with a U.S. worker and been unable to fill the position.

Guest Worker Requirements

The requirements of an H-2B visa for a guest worker includes:
  • The guest worker must be a resident of a country that is listed on the Eligible Countries List, which includes around 80 countries.
  • Must have a valid job offer in writing from a U.S. employer.
  • Should have the experience and educational background that clearly shows they qualify for the position.
  • Must show that the worker intends to return home when the H-2B visa expires.
worker skills and Qualification
How Long Can an H-2B Visa Holder Stay?
An H-2B guest worker is given a visa with a temporary labor certification. The visa has a duration of one year. The H-2B visa holder can seek an extension for their visa in an increment of up to one year. The maximum stay is three years.
If a visa holder has been in the U.S. for three years working on an H-2B visa, then they must leave the United States for three months before they become eligible for possible readmission.
Understanding Temporary Need
Employers and guest workers often become confused over the term ‘temporary need.’ The employment needed for the H-2B visa must be classified as either:
  • One time occurrence
  • Seasonal
  • Intermittent
  • Peak load
One Time Occurrence
A one time occurrence is a non-permanent position that is a short-term event that has made a temporary vacancy (an example would be an unexpected illness). With a one time occurrence position, the need has never happened before is not forecast to occur again in the future.
Seasonal Need
A seasonal need is associated with the time of year, such as spring, winter, fall, or summer. It recurs periodically. Seasonal need cannot be used to cover for an employee who has gone on vacation or some other similar occurrence.
Peak Load Need
A peak load need happens when there is an increased demand for workers to conduct certain job functions during a specific season or due to a short-term increase in demand. The need can arise due to forestry issues or a boom in construction in one particular region. The increase is not forecast to recur on a regular basis.
Intermittent Need
An intermittent need is used when an employer cannot manage to employ permanent, full-time U.S. workers and there exists a short term need to fill the positions occasionally. Intermittent workers are often required in the spring or summer months when construction work picks up and there are insufficient workers. Resorts also often need intermittent workers during spring or summer break when vacationers flock to the locations and there aren’t enough local workers to fill the vacancies.
H-2B Visa Cap Increase 2022
In 2022, the Homeland Security and the DOL increased the cap limit on the H-2B nonimmigrant visas by 20,000 additional visas for the fiscal year. Then, another 20,000 visas have been authorized for the second half of the fiscal year of 2022 as the cap is again lifted.

The supplemental 40,000 visas in 2022 have been made available to businesses who are experiencing damage due to a shortage of workers. The struggling businesses can utilize the H-2B visa program to fill their labor shortage. The increase is only for 2022 and may or may not be available in the future.

H-2B Minimum Wage
An employer must pay an H-2B worker the rate outlined in the job order. The wage must be at least the highest of the prevailing wage rate (which can be obtained from Employment and Training Administration (ETA) or the applicable Federal, State, or local minimum wage.
The wage cannot have any unauthorized deductions or money going back to the employer.
The employer must submit a request for prevailing wage information from the National Prevailing Wage Center (NPWC) using ETA Form 9141. After completion, the NPWC will send the employer a form that indicates the prevailing wage, the period of validity and the source. The H-2B employer is responsible for retaining the form. Prevailing wage is determined 130 to 150 days before the job starts.
When an employer has a job that requires H-2B workers, they must contact the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to obtain a determination on whether there are sufficient workers in the U.S. who are available to fill the position locally. If there is not, then the employer must show that employing H-2B workers will not impact the area’s wages and the conditions of American workers.
With the certification process, the employer must predict that there is a shortage of workers and then fill out and submit a prevailing wage determination (PWD) around 150 days prior to the start date of the job.

The DOL’s PWD is the H-2B minimum wage set for employers. Many employers halt the H-2B visa process when they discover that the H-2B minimum wage 2021 and H-2B minimum wage 2022 continue to be considerably higher than the federal minimum wage. In every state, the H-2B wages 2022 are higher than the state’s minimum wage by about 60 percent.

Determining Prevailing Wage Rates

The DOL will determine prevailing wage rates based on either:

  • Collective bargaining agreement of the employer (such as union wages).
  • Average U.S. wages factored in the typical commuting distance of the job category outlined in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey. Rarely, it might be determined by some other survey that meets the strict rules of the DOL.

The goal is for the DOL to match the location and the employer’s job duties and locations, to the occupational employment statistics (OES) wage.

The PWD increases the H-2B workers’ wages 2021 and the H-2B workers’ wages 2022 to higher than U.S. workers in one of three ways.
  • The PWD is based on the mean (average) wage instead of the medium (the midpoint wage distribution with half over and half below). This makes the H-2B wages higher than most U.S. workers in those job categories. 
  • DOL mandates that employers must pay the highest average wage for the region of employment which falls within the normal commuting distance of the worksite. Even if the work is in a county with a lower average wage, the employer must still pay the higher wage because it considers it within normal commuting distance of the county with the higher wage. 
  • The PWD does not consider the experience or skill variances within the job categories. From 1998 to 2013, wages were provided in levels by the DOL. The PWD’s wage level was based on the skills and experience needed by the employer. Now, the agency still has four wage levels for H-1B high skilled visa programs which include H-2B job categories but in 2013 the DOL stopped using the skill levels for the H-2B program so it could raise wages. Previously, the DOL considered three-quarters of the jobs for H-2B to be entry level so when they did away with the wage levels it increased the wages of the H-2B workers much higher than skilled U.S. workers. 

The PWD proves challenging for employers for a variety of reasons. They must pinpoint all job duties and worksites over five months ahead of time. The process means that workers must continue working at the same jobsite within the same job category. For certain employers this is an arduous task, for example, a construction laborer might be in charge of operating a cement mixer but if he stops operation of that machine and goes to smooth concrete then he is classified as a ‘cement mason’ which commands higher wages.

An employer can obtain numerous PWDs so workers can perform multiple job duties at various wages, but the process is difficult because each hour is calculated at a different rate and jobs must be kept separate. Individual workers have a challenging time switching between categories as needed. In addition, the DOL refuses to certify any job that spans multiple commuting areas unless it is in the forestry or carnival job classifications. PWD takes constant monitoring to ensure that employers do not violate the rules of the H-2B visa by having a worker travel outside the area or perform different job tasks.

H-2B Wage Payment Methods
Many employers wonder if they can pay their H-2B employees using other forms of payment besides an hourly pay rate. Yes, an H-2B employee can be paid incentives, commissions, and bonuses. However, if the employee fails to earn the equivalent wage, then the employer must pay a supplemental amount so that the pay is equal to what the employee would have earned working an hourly wage.

Some employers require that an employee meet a productivity standard. If so, then the standard must be outlined in the job order and must be normal and common for U.S. workers performing the same occupation as well. Also, using productivity standards cannot cause the H-2B worker to be paid less than the outlined hourly wage.

Employers must follow all federal wage statutes and pay overtime professions as set forth in the Fair Labor Standards Act just as they would with a U.S. worker. During each payday, the employer must make all the normal deductions that are required by law. On the job order, it will state the deductions not required. Any deductions that are not disclosed are not allowed.

How Frequently Must an H-2B Worker Be Paid?

An H-2B employer must be paid at minimum every two weeks or according to the outlined prevailing practice in the region (whichever is the most frequent). Each job order must clearly state the frequency of the paydays and all wages must be paid when due.

Advertising the Wage Rate
When recruiting for a position via job order, newspaper, advertisements, etc,the employee must outline that they pay the highest of the prevailing wage or the local, state, or federal minimum wage to U.S. job seekers. The wage must be the same as that being offered to the H-2B worker.
H-2B Housing Requirements
housing requirements

An H-2B employer is not required to provide housing to H-2B workers. There are no H-2B housing regulations, unlike with other visa types. The H-2B worker must pay for their own housing costs and any related expenses. Typically, the H-2B workers simply lack the resources needed to secure housing so employers are encouraged to seek basic housing arrangements with amenities to help the workers during their stay but there are no H-2B housing requirements.

Because of this, the workers are free to secure their own housing. Undoubtedly, H-2B housing can often prove problematic for both worker and employer if there are no affordable housing options in the area.

H-2B Transportation Requirements

The H-2B employer must pay for inbound and outbound transportation along with meals and lodging until the guest worker reaches their place of employment. This requirement does not matter if the H-2B worker is traveling from their home country or if they are already in the United States. This requirement also covers any U.S. workers who will be traveling from afar to the job site. 

The employer must outline their plans to provide inbound transportation aligned with subsistence costs (lodging and meals) in detail on the job order. The options are to advance all transportation and subsistence costs to workers prior to traveling to the worksite by paying the guest worker directly or by reimbursing the expenses during the first work pay period.

The Fair Labors Standards Act (FLSA) requires that employers reimburse the workers for any incurred costs for inbound transportation from their home country to the worksite if the costs would force the workers’ wages below the federal minimum wage for the first week of pay.

The employer can pay their outbound travel obligation by giving the H-2B employee travel reimbursement, making arrangements, or paying the sum directly or by providing reimbursement to the workers during the worker’s last workweek employment.

In addition to paying all inbound and outbound transportation an employer must provide the advance funds for the H-2B visa holder’s border crossing, visa, and visa-related expenses. The employer must pay the visa holder either directly or reimburse the first payday.

2022 Meal Charge and Reimbursement Rates for H2B

An H-2B employer must pay, reimburse, or provide a guest worker the reasonable cost of not only transportation, but also meals for the time it takes the guest worker to reach their place of employment from their home country. They must also pay for meals during their return trip home if they complete over 50% of the job period or are dismissed early.

In the job offer, it must clearly state the amount that the guest worker will receive for a daily stipend when traveling.

The amount ranges from $14 per day to $59 per day if documentation is provided. 

In addition to a meal allowance and travel expenses, the employer must also pay for reasonable lodging when needed. The amount must be both reasonable and economical.

meal charge

The Approval Process for the H-2B Visa

For an H-2B visa applicant, the approval process consists of three steps.

Temporary Labor Certification Application

An employer starts the temporary labor certification application process by sending off a registration request for an H-2B registration to the State Workforce Agency (SWA). The requisition should be sent more than 150 days before the start of the job.

The employer will request that the SWA determine prevailing wage, file a job order, and then file a form ETA 9142B Application for Temporary Employment Certification while including supporting documents with the DOL.

An employer must try to recruit U.S. workers to fill the job vacancy. If the recruiting efforts fail, then the employer will be granted a foreign labor certification. The labor certification clearly confirms that there are not sufficient US workers to fill the position and that the H-2B guest workers are needed. Also, employment of the H-2B visa holder will in no way negatively impact the employment, working conditions or wages of U.S. workers.

USCIS Approval

Once the labor certification is issued by DOL, the petitioner must also seek approval by contacting the USCIS and submitting Form I-129 application (USCIS Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker) along with any additional supporting documents such as the following:

  • Filing fee
  • Temporary labor certification (copy) 
  • Form I-129H
  • Evidence of qualification for employment 
  • Evidence of immigration status such as Form I-94, Form I-797, or passport.

In some situations, the USCIS might request other documents. 

H-2B Visa Consular Processing

A guest worker who wants to apply for an H-2B visa must complete Form DS-160 (Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application) and pay the filing fee. A confirmation page will be sent via email. The guest worker will need to schedule an interview for the visa at the consulate or embassy. They must provide following documents at the interview:

  • DS-160 confirmation page
  • Completed form DS-160
  • Form I-797 from the USCIS that shows approval
  • Valid passport (to receive the H-2B stamp)
  • Passport photo of applicant 
  • Documents showing nonimmigrant intent such as proof of homeownership or future employment.

Documents not written in English should have a certified translation copy attached.


The H-2B visa process is tedious and time consuming. Prior to deciding if the H-2B guest worker program is right for you, you should consider all the costs involved such as fees, transportation, food, and H2B minimum wage requirements. For many employers, the guest worker program fills a temporary or seasonal labor shortage need. To learn more about the H-2B visa process, contact AW Labor Solutions today.


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