The Department of Homeland Security said that a proposed rule published Wednesday in the Federal Register will “modernize and improve” regulations related to the H-2B temporary nonagricultural worker and H-2A temporary agricultural programs, helping employers facing workforce shortages.

“These proposed reforms will help US employers address worker shortages through new program flexibilities,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas, calling such workers “essential” to the seasonal economy.

The agency said that it “is proposing greater flexibility for H-2 workers by extending grace periods for seeking new employment, preparing for departure from the United States, or seeking a change of immigration status, which will provide increased clarity and worker flexibility, mobility and protections.”

The proposed rule also seeks to “provide this vulnerable population of workers with the protections they deserve” by strengthening protections for workers against exploitative conduct by employers and adding whistleblower protections for workers, the agency said. Under the proposed rule, the DHS can deny visa petitions for employers that have been found to have violated either the visa program requirements or certain labor laws.

Some covered employees under the H-2 visa programs could be employed as short-term personal care aides, nursing assistants and home health aides, among other positions. Long-term care industry advocates continually have pushed for immigration reform as a means of addressing the workforce shortages plaguing the field.

As of April, nursing facilities had lost more than 200,000 nurses and aides since the start of the pandemic, according to federal labor statistics. Some say foreign nurses waiting in the wings to fill those vacant positions are stalemated by their inability to obtain green cards. Senior living providers could use help as well.

By April, the US Citizenship and Immigration Service had reached its congressionally mandated cap for the additional 16,500 H-2B visas made available for returning workers for the early second half of fiscal year 2023 for foreign workers.

DHS is accepting comments about the rule through Nov. 20.

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