February 26, 2020

Cardin, Van Hollen Urge DHS to Provide Immediate Relief for Maryland Seafood Industry

Bipartisan letter requests additional H2-B visas needed to fulfill difficult labor demands

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (Both D-Md.) have joined with bipartisan colleagues in calling on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to release the additional H-2B visas needed to support local seafood businesses in Maryland and states like Virginia, Alaska and North Carolina. The letter, also signed by Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (Both D-Va.), Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan (Both R-Alaska) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), urges the DHS to quickly authorize additional visas for temporary non-agricultural workers so that seafood industries around the country can hire seasonal workers and continue operations. 

“Many of the seafood businesses we represent are family-owned operations that go back multiple generations, often in rural areas of our states. Despite good faith efforts to find local seasonal workers, our seafood industries rely on H-2B workers for tough jobs such as shucking oysters and processing crabs,” wrote the Senators. “These businesses are entirely reliant on the forces of nature that determine, for example, when salmon will run and be ready for harvest. Without H-2B visas, some local businesses will be forced to reduce the size of their American workforces.”

“We urge the Department to promptly make available sufficient visas to meet the labor needs of our states’ seafood industries, and to announce its intent to do so by March 1, 2020,” they continued. “Local seafood businesses earn their livelihoods based on perishable products, and need H-2B workers to harvest and process their respective seafood products so they can sell those products. If these local businesses lose a customer base one year, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to come back into the industry. We have already heard from local businesses that will be forced to shut down ahead of the 2020 season if a sufficient number of Congressionally-authorized H-2B visas are not released.”

H-2B visas allow employers to temporarily hire nonimmigrants to perform nonagricultural labor or services in the United States if U.S. workers are not available, after completing rigorous application and certification process. These visas are critical to the survival of Maryland’s seafood industry – particularly the crab-picking houses on the Eastern Shore.

Each year, according to state officials, the Maryland seafood industry contributes nearly $600 million to the State's economy. In 2017, the commercial landings value of Maryland's seafood industry was $82,166,333. Annual commercial landings have averaged over 50 million pounds since 2000. In addition, research conducted by the University of Maryland shows that every H-2B temporary worker in crab processing helps to create 2.5 jobs for American citizens.

In the letter, the Senators note that the congressionally authorized FY20 Consolidated Appropriations Act gives the DHS Secretary, in consultation with the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), the authority to raise the cap on H2-B visas, and issue additional visas as needed.

Recently, in a bipartisan call, Cardin and Van Hollen pressed DHS Secretary Wolf to release the additional Congressionally-authorized H-2B visas, to publicly announce this intent, and to do so as quickly as possible. 

The letter is available here and below.

 

The Honorable Chad F. Wolf

Acting Secretary

United States Department of Homeland Security

3801 Nebraska Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20528

 

Dear Acting Secretary Wolf:

We write on behalf of local seafood businesses in Virginia, Alaska, Maryland, and North Carolina who need the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to release additional H-2B visas in order to hire seasonal workers and continue operations.  We were encouraged to hear that you have been working diligently on this issue when we spoke with you last week. 

Many of the seafood businesses we represent are family-owned operations that go back multiple generations, often in rural areas of our states.  Despite good faith efforts to find local seasonal workers, our seafood industries rely on H-2B workers for tough jobs such as shucking oysters and processing crabs.  These businesses are entirely reliant on the forces of nature that determine, for example, when salmon will run and be ready for harvest.  Without H-2B visas, some local businesses will be forced to reduce the size of their American workforces.

Under the “Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020”, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of the Department of Labor (DOL), is authorized to provide expeditious H-2B cap relief for our local businesses’ upcoming seasonal labor needs.  We urge the Department to promptly make available sufficient visas to meet the labor needs of our states’ seafood industries, and to announce its intent to do so by March 1, 2020. 

Local seafood businesses earn their livelihoods based on perishable products, and need H-2B workers to harvest and process their respective seafood products so they can sell those products.  If these local businesses lose a customer base one year, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to come back into the industry.  We have already heard from local businesses that will be forced to shut down ahead of the 2020 season if a sufficient number of Congressionally-authorized H-2B visas are not released. 

Without answers on H-2B visa cap relief for 2020, our seafood industries remain in a unique and perilous position.  We urge you to quickly announce your intent to make available sufficient H-2B visas authorized as Congress.  Thank you for your careful attention to this critical matter.  

Sincerely,

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