Senator Seeking H-2B Visa Program For Shore

BERLIN — U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski this month announced a federal appropriations bill now circulating in Congress that would allow the Eastern Shore’s seafood industry to stagger H-2B visa seasonal workers to support harvests during peak seasons.

Mikulski on Wednesday announced the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 includes a provision which, if passed, would allow the seafood industry on the Eastern Shore and across Maryland to implement a strategic timing plan for the H-2B visas for seasonal foreign workers to meet the demands of the peak seasons for catching and processing crabs, crabmeat and oysters, for example.

For the last 20 years or more, the seafood industry on the Eastern Shore has brought in seasonal workers on H-2B visas at different times during the season to match peak harvest times. For example, seafood processors along the Chesapeake and across the Eastern Shore are forced to rely on the H-2B program for help picking crabs and shucking oysters, for example, despite attempts to hire domestic workers.

In recent months, federal lawmakers have considered legislation to tighten the H-2B visa program, but Mikulski has worked to include a provision that would allow businesses that rely on H-2B workers to stagger the visas during peak harvest times. Without the provision, Maryland seafood businesses would be required to bring in all H-2B visa workers at the same time, creating a burden and prohibiting them from utilizing the workforce when it is most needed.

“Maryland’s seafood industry is critical for jobs on the Eastern Shore and our way of life,” said Mikulski this week. “From harvesting crabs to shucking oysters, temporary and seasonal workers ensure Maryland’s seafood industry continues to prosper. By staggering the work periods of these seasonal employees, businesses can get the help they need when they need it.”

Mikulski embarked on a jobs tour on the Eastern Shore this fall including a stop in Ocean City and heard directly of the importance of the program. Mikulski said the continued use of H-2B visa workers on the Eastern Shore has a trickle-down effect for all workers involved in the seafood industry.

“On the Eastern Shore, crab pickers here on H-2B visas keep our canneries operating, which saves jobs,” she said. “They save the jobs of the watermen who catch and harvest the seafood, the canneries that process it, the companies that ship and those that sell it.”