WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-Md.) welcomed the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) release in November of 130,716 H-2B temporary nonagricultural worker visas for fiscal year 2024 as they announced that they have joined U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Mark Warner, and Tim Kaine (both D-Va.) in introducing bipartisan legislation to improve the H-2B program to help ensure Maryland seafood companies can hire the seasonal workforce they need to operate at full capacity.
The fiscal year 2024 visa allocation total is comprised of the 66,000 H-2B visas that DHS can release annually under the Immigration and Nationality Act, as well as 64,716 supplemental visas authorized by the fiscal year 2023 government funding legislation and short-term continuing resolution (CR) that the Senators worked to pass. This visa program is essential for the operations of Maryland’s crab and seafood small businesses, which have historically employed foreign workers through it when domestic workers cannot be found to fill these positions. However, in recent years, the H-2B visa program has become an increasingly uncertain source of labor as economy-wide demand for the program has surged, ultimately squeezing out the seafood industry. The Senators’ legislation – the Save Our Seafood Act – addresses this issue by exempting seafood processors from the current annual 66,000-visa cap on the H-2B program.
“For years, the struggle to hire seasonal workers has put an incredible strain on America’s seafood industry. The chronic worker shortage has put seafood and crab businesses, particularly those on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, at risk of permanent damage. Expanding the H-2B visa program will allow businesses to hire more seasonal workers and help fill a critical void in the upcoming season. Further, by eliminating the 66,000-visa cap for seafood processors, we can ensure that Maryland’s seafood industry will fully rebound,” said Senator Cardin.
“Maryland’s seafood businesses – most of which are small and family-owned – not only process the iconic blue crabs that our state is known for, they also power an industry that contributes millions of dollars to our economy annually. That’s why we pressed the Administration to provide the maximum number of H-2B visas available in order to ensure these businesses have the workforce they need to operate. This is a key step to support our local businesses for the upcoming season, but it’s just as critical that we secure a long-term solution to provide certainty in the seasons to come. Our legislation offers a tailored approach to better position Maryland businesses to meet their labor demands while supporting American jobs. Providing a reliable supply of H-2B visas – along with our ongoing fight to protect the workers in this industry – is essential to the success of our treasured seafood industry for years to come,” said Senator Van Hollen.
Since Fiscal Year 2017, Congress has authorized the Department of Homeland Security in year-end omnibus appropriations laws to issue additional H-2B visas beyond the statutory cap, subject to specified conditions. While Senators Van Hollen and Cardin have worked each year to maximize the number of H-2B visas available for Maryland businesses, the program’s current structure fundamentally disadvantages crab processing and purchasing companies. This $355 million Maryland industry relies on these visas to employ approximately 500 workers for the crab season, which runs from April to November. Maryland’s seafood companies do not have flexibility in their visa timing needs. If workers are not available to process crabs when harvest occurs, businesses face closure – either for the season or for good.
By exempting crab processing and purchasing companies from the 66,000 annual cap on H-2B visa allocation, this legislation will give Maryland seafood businesses the certainty they need to remain in operation and preserve the viability of this iconic industry.
This legislation is also cosponsored by U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy (R-La.), John Kennedy (R-La.), and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska).
Bill text can be viewed here.
The Senators introduced this legislation as the Biden Administration has also taken action to strengthen labor rights and protections for H-2B workers.