US lawmakers hail added H-2B visas but want Congress to make reforms

Published on
April 9, 2019

The U.S. seafood industry and others that rely on temporary labor received good news at the end of last month when President Donald Trump's administration announced it would allocate an extra 30,000 visas under the H-2B worker program.

It’s a marked change from the last couple years, when the administration released only 15,000 visas, which companies can use to hire foreign workers for non-agricultural jobs. This year’s announcement by the Department of Homeland Security also comes two full months ahead of last year’s. That will give seafood processors and other companies more time to apply and bring workers in for the seasonal jobs.

The decision means 63,000 visas will be available for companies through the end of the fiscal year, which ends in September. However, the 30,000 additional visas will only be available to workers who received one during one of the last three fiscal years.

Maryland officials applauded the news. The state’s crab industry has been hard hit by the lack of visas, with some businesses having to close because they could not get visas they needed to secure workers. In addition to seafood processors, hotels, landscapers, and the horse-racing trainers are among the businesses that seek these waivers to hire staff for their seasonal needs.

“Maryland crabs are central to our state’s economy – from watermen who harvest them from the [Chesapeake] Bay, to the crab houses who process them, to restaurants and stores across the state who sell our iconic blue crab,” U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) said in a statement. “Lack of access to H-2B visas has had terrible consequences on our seafood industry, which I’ve repeatedly stressed to the administration. These additional visas will bring welcome relief and ensure that crab houses have a reliable workforce. I will continue working with all stakeholders to put in place a long-term solution and protect Maryland’s economy,”

Former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who resigned from the position over the weekend, had said previously that Congress should be in charge of setting the number of visas available to companies.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan agreed with Nielsen and said in a statement that Congress needs to raise the cap on the visas. 

Before DHS added the extra 30,000 visas for the next six months, the cap had been set at 33,000 for each half of the fiscal year.

“A second year of hardship could permanently damage Maryland’s seafood industry, causing these iconic family businesses to close and having a devastating impact on jobs in our state,” said Hogan, a Republican. “The loss of these jobs and processors will threaten the livelihoods of commercial crabbers and watermen, and jeopardize our USD 355 million [EUR 315 million] seafood industry.”

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