Maryland representative calls on Biden to increase H-2B visas to stop crab house labor crunch

Published on
January 12, 2022
Maryland blue crabs at a seafood market.

U.S. Representative Andy Harris is calling on the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden to make more H-2B visas available to cover the need crab houses have in the Maryland Republican’s district.

It’s not the first time Harris has called for an increase in the temporary worker permits that enable companies to bring nonimmigrant workers to the U.S. for temporary, non-agricultural work. In 2020, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced it would not increase the cap from 66,000 visas, and shortly after some conservatives called on then-U.S. President Donald Trump to limit visa workers, a move Harris was against.

"In my district, we have seafood processing and the tourism industry," Harris told Law360 at the time. "H-2B workers do jobs that American workers simply don't do. The businesses certainly advertise for the jobs and pay more than minimum wage, but they simply can't attract the workers. To be honest, these are seasonal jobs, and the goal for American workers is to get full-time jobs."

Harris told the Dorchester Star on Thursday, 6 January, 2021, applications for visas good for April through September exceeded the number of visas available by more than 100,000. Harris said his colleagues in Congress should work to find a solution to a problem that pops up on an annual basis.

“Without access to these visas, many American-owned seasonal businesses facing severe labor shortages will be forced to scale back or shutter their operations entirely, further driving up prices for goods and services, killing good paying permanent American jobs, and harming local economies,” Harris said.

The current cap on H-2B visas stands at 66,000 annually, with those permits evenly divided for both halves of the fiscal year. 

Last month, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Labor jointly announced that 20,000 additional H-2B visas would become available for the 2022 fiscal year, which runs through September. Those additional visas would cover 13,500 returning workers, and the remaining 6,500 would be earmarked for residents of El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, and Honduras.

In a statement, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the additional visas would bolster the country’s post-COVID economic recovery. He also hinted reforms are coming to the program.

“In the coming months, DHS will seek to implement policies that will make the H-2B program even more responsive to the needs of our economy, while protecting the rights of both U.S. and noncitizen workers,” he said.  

Photo courtesy of David Kay/Shutterstock

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