Biden administration doubles H-2B work visas for 2024

A photo of a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services building.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will provide an additional 64,716 H-2B temporary work visas in fiscal 2024, nearly doubling the number of available visas from the statutory cap of 66,000.

This is the second year in a row DHS has announced that more than 64,000 additional H-2B visas will be made available to the industry.

Many parts of the seafood sector rely on H-2B visas to fill out their seasonal workforces. In 2022, Alaska's two U.S. senators told DHS their state's seafood processors would likely need 9,000 temporary work visas for the 2023 seasons.

“Without access to the H-2B workforce in FY23, estimates are in excess of USD 100 million [EUR 91 million] that could be lost to our seafood supply chain,” U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and U.S. Sen Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) told DHS in a letter.

Murkowski introduced legislation in October 2023 that would exempt temporary workers in the fish processing sector from counting against the H-2B visa cap. The bill has picked up several co-sponsors representing coastal states and has been referred to the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary for further consideration.

Pacific Seafood Processors Association Chairman Mark JoHahnson told DHS in a separate 2022 letter that a shortfall of roughly 3,000 H-2B visa workers in the Bristol Bay, Alaska sockeye salmon season in 2017 resulted in a regional economic loss of more that USD 47 million (EUR 43 million).

Several federal lawmakers from coastal states welcomed DHS’ announcement of the additional H-2B visas for fiscal 2024.

“These additional H-2B visas are a welcome relief for small businesses throughout Maine that continue to face a shortage of employees,” U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and U.S. Sen Angus King (I-Maine) said in a joint statement. “These visas are a lifeline for our state’s economy, helping businesses meet the increasing demand for their products and services.”

U.S. Rep. Andy Harris told Chesapeake Bay Magazine that the visas would provide much-needed help to Maryland’s crab processing industry.

“While there is still more work to do, the release of these additional visas is a step in the right direction as we work to find a permanent solution to help our seasonal businesses on the Eastern Shore,” Harris said.

Federal lawmakers continue to push for an increase in the number of temporary work visas made available every year. The Senate’s annual funding bill for DHS includes language allowing for up to 64,716 supplemental visas and a provision directing the U.S.Department of Labor to provide a report on the economic impact of the H-2B visa availability shortfall. 

The House version of the legislation initially included a returning worker exemption that would allow workers who received an H-2B visa within the last three years to return without counting against the 66,000 visa cap. The exemption is supported by the American Seafood Jobs Alliance, the National Fisheries Institute, the National Restaurant Association, the Chesapeake Bay Seafood Industries Association, the Gulf Seafood Institute, the Pacific Seafood Processors Association, and the West Coast Seafood Processors Association. However, Republican leadership stripped the returning worker provision from the bill in September.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock / Sundry Photography


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