On Monday, 22 June, U.S. President Donald Trump issued an executive order to temporarily suspend foreign seasonal workers from entering the United States. However, the order carves out an exception for workers who provide “services essential” to the country’s food supply chain.
That’s good news for U.S. seafood processors who depend on H-2B visa workers to fill critical jobs during fishing season.
In the order, Trump said he was looking out for Americans workers, 13.3 percent of whom are unemployed. With the COVID-19 crisis, the visa program poses “an unusual threat” to U.S. workers.
“American workers compete against foreign nationals for jobs in every sector of our economy, including against millions of aliens who enter the United States to perform temporary work,” the order stated. “Temporary workers are often accompanied by their spouses and children, many of whom also compete against American workers. Under ordinary circumstances, properly administered temporary worker programs can provide benefits to the economy.”
This order comes two months after Trump ordered a 60-day immigration ban on visa workers, but that order excluded the H-2B program, which covers temporary labor in nonagricultural settings. Monday’s order goes a step further.
Last month, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would keep the number of H-2B visas available at 66,000 and not expand the availability, as it had considered before the coronavirus emergency hit the country.
Late last month, a number of Republican lawmakers sent letters to Trump urging him to carve out an exception for the seafood industry. Many processing plants are located in remote parts of the country and have a difficult time finding American workers for the seasonal positions. Without temporary foreign labor, the processing houses would have to turn away boats.
One of those letter writers was U.S. Rep. Andy Harris (R-Maryland), whose district includes several crab processors in eastern Maryland.
“I thank the Trump administration for sparing seafood processors from this moratorium,” Harris said on Twitter Tuesday. “These workers support countless American jobs and businesses in [my] district.”
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