WASHINGTON (WMAL) A reduction in the number of H-2B temporary work visas devastated Maryland’s crab and seafood processing industry in 2018, and Gov. Larry Hogan says it will do the same in 2019 unless more visas are issued.
Thursday he wrote to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Department of Labor Secretary Alex Acosta asking them to reverse a 2018 decision to limit the number of visas available through the H-2B Temporary Non-Agricultural Workers program.
He said failing to restore the H-2B visa program will jeopardize jobs and threaten the livelihood of Maryland’s watermen and commercial crabbers along with the state’s $355 million seafood industry.
In a typical year, Hogan said 500 H-2B seasonal workers are needed for Maryland’s 20 licensed crab picking houses.
“Without these temporary workers, and without an end to the arbitrary lottery system, I have been advised by companies and processors that there will be a repeat of last year, in which half of the processors in the state were unable to open for business or forced to significantly reduce their operations,” Hogan wrote.
In a video put out by the Hogan administration last year talking to seamen on the Eastern Shore, Jack Brooks, co-owner of J.M. Clayton and President of the Chesapeake Bay Seafood Industries Association, said in the late 1980s there were 54 companies in Maryland that did this work, and now there are fewer than 20 because of the lack of workers and cheaper imports.
“We were really struggling for decades trying to find people who would wait out the off season to come back to work the next spring, and Congress instituted the H-2B program, a non-agricultural seasonal work visa, and it worked perfect,” said Brooks.
Bill Sieling, the executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Seafood Industries Association, said for those concerned about immigration, this is not an immigration program but rather a temporary worker program. He said they come in with a Visa and can stay a few months to work before being required to go home.
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