The U.S. has been experiencing a persistent shortage of qualified commercial truck drivers for a while now, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made the shortage even more acute. Not only many older drivers opted for early retirement due the pandemic but also many driving schools that are training the new commercial truck drivers were forced to shut down operations temporarily because of the measures to fight COVID-19. This in turn slowed down the flow of newly trained drivers, making the shortage of previous years more severe. On the positive side, the availability of vaccines and reopening of the US economy has driven demand and prices for transportation services higher. For the companies that are able to successfully recruit qualified commercial truck drivers there are substantial financial rewards. In order to that trucking companies have increased pay, offer sign up bonuses of up to $5,000, and recruit aggressively over multiple platforms. When financial incentives are not enough simply because there are not enough licensed commercial truck drivers in the United States what can trucking companies do?
An option to address the shortage is to bring qualified commercial truck drivers from abroad to fill in vacant spots. There are experienced truck drivers that might be looking to open new chapters in their careers by driving in the US or might be that demand and rates for transportation services are lower in the drivers’ home countries as the COVID-19 pandemic continues unabated throughout most of the developing countries. Generally, US trucking companies have the choice to bring commercial truck drives on a temporary basis to fill short-term needs by sponsoring them nonimmigrant visas or on a permanent basis and sponsor the drivers for a permanent residency (green card). Below we summarize both options.
The H-2B visa can be used by US trucking companies to hire foreign commercial truck drivers. The H-2B visa program is designed to help U.S. employers that encounter difficulties hiring because of shortages of U.S. workers that are willing and able to perform nonagricultural labor. The program allows employers to fill positions for nonagricultural labor by hiring employees from abroad on a temporary basis for an initial term between 9 and 12 months and can be extended if the need persists for up to 3 years. To sponsor a worker for H-2B an employer has to first obtain a labor certification from the Department of Labor (DOL). That involves getting a prevailing wage determination from the DOL which states how much is the minimum the worker should be paid and advertising the H-2B position under DOL guidance before it can become available to foreign workers. In addition, the employer has to show the temporary nature of the position by stating the need that it addresses. The options, as defined by the DOL, are one-time occurrence, seasonal need, peak load need and intermittent need. After obtaining the labor certification from the DOL, the US employer has to submit a petition with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The biggest advantage of the H-2B visa is that a single petition can be filled for multiple workers. Upon approval of the petition the selected workers have to go their nearest US consulate to obtain a visa stamp before they can come and start employment in the US.
The EB-3 Employment-Based Permanent Resident category allows US employers to hire unskilled foreign workers (requiring less than 2 years training or experience) in a permanent capacity. To successfully sponsor a foreign truck driver for a green card, the employer must be able to demonstrate to the DOL that there are insufficient workers in the US to fill the role. The severe shortage of commercial truck drivers is well established and documented making the argument that there are no qualified US workers to fill the position very persuasive. Similar to the H-2B, the EB-3 also requires a labor certification from the DOL with both prevailing wage and position advertising requirements. However, the process is a little lengthier as the certification is for a permanent position. Once the labor certification is approved by the DOL, the employer can subsequently file a Permanent Resident petition application with the USCIS. If the USCIS petition is approved the employee has to either go to the nearest US consulate to obtain the immigrant visa or if in the US, apply for adjustment of status with the USCIS. The EB-3 is a more lengthy and costly process than the H2-B but has the advantage in solving the driver shortage on a more permanent basis.
Once the commercial truck driver enters the US either on a temporary H2-B visa or as green card holder, he or she would have to obtain a commercial driving license (CDL). Only drivers from Canada or Mexico might be able to use the CDLs issued by their own countries as the US government recognizes foreign CDLs issued by the federal government of Mexico and the provinces and territories in Canada. The process of obtaining a CDL is expected to be 2-3 weeks in most U.S. states.
If you are U.S. trucking company seeking to hire foreign commercial truck drivers, contact us, your trusted business and immigration law firm in Miami, Florida USA. Our experienced business and immigration lawyers in USA can assist with the H-2B or EB-3 visa application.
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