Seasonal Visa Allocation Increased

BERLIN — The Eastern Shore’s seafood industry and other seasonal businesses got welcome news late last week when the federal government announced it was nearly doubling the number of H-2B temporary, non-agricultural worker visas for fiscal year 2023.

The federal Department of Homeland Security (DHA) last week announced it was releasing an additional 64,000-plus H-2B temporary seasonal visas for workers so critical to the shore’s seafood industry. The release of the additional H-2B visas was made possible by an amendment co-sponsored by Congressman Andy Harris (R-Md.) to the fiscal year 2022 DHS appropriations bill, which was signed into law last March.

The release of the additional H2-B visas could provide a shot in the arm for many Lower Shore businesses that rely on the temporary, seasonal workforce they provide. The H-2B guest worker program provides access to seasonal temporary labor to businesses that can prove they were unable to hire willing and qualified American workers in certain non-agricultural seasonal roles.

U.S. employers are allowed to bring foreign nationals to this country to fill temporary, non-agricultural jobs with H-2B status. 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.

Heretofore, there have been 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, federal lawmakers, including Maryland’s representatives in Congress, have been urging the DHS to up the number available. The DHS announcement late last week will include the typical 66,000 issued each fiscal year, along with over 64,000 more in fiscal year 2023, bringing the total number available to around 133,000. Harris announced last week he was pleased the DHS had increased the number available and said the allocation could boost Eastern Shore businesses in his district with their temporary labor needs. He said the shortfall of available visas has been particularly hard on certain seafood industries on the shore, including crab picking and processing plants, for example.

“This is announcement is welcome news for many businesses across Maryland’s 1st District,” he said. “The release of these additional visas will help many businesses in my district that rely on seasonal workers for the economic development of their operation.”

Harris said the announcement was the direct result of the Harris-Pingree Appropriations amendment that allowed the DHS to release more workers based on their discretion.

Maryland’s Democratic U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen also praised the DHS release of an additional 64,000-plus H-2B visas for fiscal year 2023 on top of the 66,000 that are normally available each year.

“Maryland’s seafood industry is powered by many Eastern Shore small businesses that process the crabs enjoyed across our region,” the senators said in a statement. “That’s why it’s critical for the administration to work with us to help meet these businesses’ unique employment needs.”

Cardin and Van Hollen also said they will continue to work with DHS to ensure enough H-2B visas are issued to meet the needs of seasonal businesses that need the workers the most.

“We are encouraged that DHS is working proactively to make the maximum number of H-2B visas available in the new fiscal year, while ensuring they are distributed in a manner that takes into account our Maryland businesses and their needs. At the same time, we will continue our efforts in Congress to develop a lasting solution that provides clearer more certain rules of the road for our seafood businesses, while protecting the rights of workers.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.