BERLIN — With uncertainties already surrounding the availability of a seasonal workforce for some key industries locally and across the Eastern Shore, Congressman Andy Harris (R-Md.) is imploring the federal government to release more H-2B visas.
The H-2B guest worker program provides access to seasonal temporary labor to businesses in certain non-agricultural seasonal roles. Unlike the J-1 visas, the workers are generally not students and there is not a work and travel component connected to the H-2B visas. The H-2B visa workers are seasonal and are relied upon heavily by the tourism, hospitality, landscaping, seafood and construction industries, for example.
There are 66,000 H-2B visas made available each year, allocated in half for the summer season and half for the winter season. However, because of acute labor shortages in certain sectors of the economy, the Department of Homeland Security earlier this made an additional 22,000 H-2B visas available for the remainder of the federal fiscal year.
Harris, who co-authored a bipartisan amendment along with Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Me.) seeking the release of more H-2B visas, said the DHS secondary allocation is falling woefully short. Harris said the yearly cap is inadequate and the lottery system for allocating the visas is unfair in many cases.
He pointed out the number of guest worker visas applied for stands at 136,000, with only 33,000 still available. Harris said shortfall could be particularly hard on certain seasonal industries across his district on the Eastern Shore, including crab picking and processing plants.
“In order to support the iconic crab houses of Maryland’s Eastern Shore and other seasonal businesses, Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas and the Biden Administration must immediately release the additional H-2B visas for the second half of fiscal year 2022 authorized under the Harris-Pingree amendment,” he said. “Additionally, Congress must continue to work to pass a long-term, bipartisan solution to this chronic shortage of these desperately needed guest workers as I did with Senator (Barbara) Mikulski years ago. Without access to these visas, many American-owned seasonal businesses facing severe labor shortages will be forced to scale back or shutter their operations entirely, further driving up prices for goods and services, killing good-paying permanent American jobs and harming local economies.”