Letter: Franchot asks for additional work visas

Posted 3/4/22

The following letter from Comptroller Peter Franchot, dated Feb. 24, was sent to the Honorable Ur M. Jaddou, Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, in reference to the H-2B Seasonal …

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Letter: Franchot asks for additional work visas

Posted

The following letter from Comptroller Peter Franchot, dated Feb. 24, was sent to the Honorable Ur M. Jaddou, Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, in reference to the H-2B Seasonal Visa Program and its impact on Maryland.

Dear Director Jaddou:

As Comptroller of Maryland and as the state's Chief Fiscal Officer, I write to express my strong concerns regarding the H-2B Seasonal Visa Program and its impact on Maryland's Seafood Industry and our economy and implore you and the USCIS to address this devastating problem immediately.

Labor shortages and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have already posed significant challenges to our seafood industry, made only worse by USCIS' inconsistent and unexplainable pattern of disapproving applications for the H-2B program. While this pattern begun under the previous administration, it is regrettable that it has continued under the current administration and under your leadership.

Maryland is globally renowned for its seafood industry, particularly its Maryland blue crabs. Our state's rich history, culture, and economy are directly tied to the Chesapeake Bay and its bountiful seafood, and generations of watermen and family-owned businesses have harvested and processed delicious seafood from the Bay for the enjoyment of millions across our state, our nation, and our world.

As Governor Hogan noted in a recent letter to our Congressional Delegation, only one crab processing facility in Maryland is set to receive critically needed H-2B visa seasonal workers for the 2022 season. With the peak seafood harvest and processing season just around the corner, the failure of USCIS to address current policies and patterns concerning the awarding of H-2B visas will result in devastating economic consequences. Through no fault of their own, businesses in the seafood harvesting and processing industry that have operated for decades will be forced to shutter their doors for good — leading to layoffs of permanent and temporary workers; increased unemployment in communities and counties that are already experiencing economic challenges; a significant decrease in revenue generated from economic activity that fund our schools, public safety programs, and other critical government priorities; and shortage of and cost increases to seafood products at a time when Marylanders and Americans are already feeling the financial brunt of cost increases at the grocery store, gas pump, and with other critical needs.

Maryland's Seafood Industry has long relied on temporary seasonable workers through the H2B program to support its peak season. The unfortunate situation we find ourselves in today is one that is completely avoidable. According to a survey conducted by the Chesapeake Bay Seafood Industry Association and the Maryland Department of Agriculture, Maryland's seafood entities expect seasonal labor for this year's crab-packing season to be the most challenging ever. The same report cautions that without additional seasonal temporary labor support, the industry expects to lose up to 1,397 Maryland jobs and a reduction of $141 million in economic activity.

By simply increasing the number of H-2B visas that your agency approves — as a bipartisan group of governors have urged the Biden Administration to do — USCIS can single-handedly prevent what will surely be an unnecessary and devastating blow to Maryland's Seafood Industry, our economy, and the thousands of Marylanders and small businesses whose livelihoods depend on this industry's continued success.

I would encourage you to engage with the businesses and Marylanders who are directly impacted by USCIS' ongoing policies concerning the H-2B Seasonal Visa Program. I am certain that after hearing from them directly, the Biden Administration will do the right thing and increase the number of applications approved under this program.

Thank you for your attention on this critically important and urgent matter.

Peter Franchot

Annapolis