WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), vice chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, recently was joined by 13 bipartisan Senators calling on Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to immediately coordinate and resume accepting and processing H-2B visa applications. Seasonal workers returning to the United States under H-2B visas are critical to ensuring Maryland’s seafood businesses have the labor force they need during peak harvest season.
The departments immediately stopped processing applications just one day after a ruling from a U.S. District Court in Florida in Perez v. Perez found that the Labor Department lacks the sole authority to administer the H-2B visa program.
“On the Eastern Shore, crab pickers here on H-2B visas keep our canneries operating, which saves jobs,” Senator Mikulski said. “They save the jobs of the watermen who catch and harvest the seafood, the canneries that process it, the companies that ship it and those that sell it. For every one H-2B visa granted, two American jobs are created. My top priority is jobs.”
In letters to both Secretaries, the Senators wrote, “It did not require that DOL shut the H-2B program down. This decision along with DHS’ decision to stop the processing of its petitions has already caused economic damage and panic among businesses that depend on the H-2B program.”
“I will never stop fighting for Maryland’s seafood jobs to ensure that the Eastern Shore continues to prosper for families and businesses,” Senator Mikulski said.
In addition to Senator Mikulski, the bipartisan letters are signed by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), David Vitter (R-La.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).
About the H-2B Visa Program
The H-2B visa program has aided Maryland’s seafood industry by providing seasonal labor to help pick crab meat on the Eastern Shore. It helps protect our borders and rewards foreign workers who play by the rules. At the same time, it protects American workers by requiring employers to recruit American workers first and keeps small and seasonal businesses open by guaranteeing needed labor during the peak seasons. The return rate for H-2B workers in Maryland is 80 percent each and every year, demonstrating the mutually beneficial success of the program.
Embarking on an Eastern Shore Jobs Tour in 2013, Senator Mikulski heard directly from local business owners and community leaders on the importance of the H-2B program for the Shore economy.
Over the past 20 years, industries using the H-2B visa program have brought seasonal workers into the United States at different times during the season to match peak harvest times. Seafood processors in the Chesapeake Bay, for instance, are forced to rely on the H-2B program for help picking crabs and shucking oysters despite attempts to hire domestic workers. The unique nature of the seafood industry makes these processors dependent not only on seasonal changes but on the behavior and activity of crabs, oysters and other harvested products.