WASHINGTON — The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 contains a provision that U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md.-1st, said is important for the seafood industry on the Eastern Shore.
The provision would allow Maryland’s seafood industry to continue to stagger its seasonal foreign workers on H-2B temporary work visas to support harvests during peak seasons. The legislation is currently in the House of Representatives, and the Senate is expected to take it up later this week.
H-2B visa workers are temporarily hired from other countries for seasonal industries and then return home once the visa expires. Before being eligible for H-2B visas, a business must first try to find workers who are already in the U.S.
“Maryland’s seafood industry is critical for jobs on the Eastern Shore and our way of life,” Mikulski said. “From harvesting crabs to shucking oysters, temporary and seasonal workers ensure Maryland’s seafood industry continues to prosper.”
Mikulski said that by staggering the work periods of H-2B seasonal employees, businesses can get the help they need when they need it.
“I fought to ensure that this legislation would put the hiring of seasonal workers back in the hands of seafood businesses whose livelihoods depend on the changing tides of Mother Nature,” Mikulski said.
For the past 20 years, industries using the H-2B visa program have brought seasonal workers into the U.S. at different times during the season to match peak harvest times.
According to Mikulski’s office, the return rate for H-2B workers in Maryland is 80 percent each year.
On the Eastern Shore, seafood processors rely on the H-2B program to help pick crabs and shuck oysters despite attempts to hire domestic workers.
“On the Eastern Shore, crab pickers here on H-2B visas keep our canneries operating, which saves jobs. 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,” Mikulski said. “For every one H-2B visa granted, two American jobs are created.”
Harris worked with Mikulski to get language allowing the staggering of H-2B workers in the appropriations bill.
“Our seafood industry is critical to the Shore economy,” Harris said. “Allowing the staggering of workers will give businesses the flexibility they need to meet market demand, and I am glad Sen. Mikulski and I were able to get this done.”
Harris is also working on legislation to allow staggered entry of H-2B workers for all employers, not just in the seafood industry.
Mikulski is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Harris is on the House Appropriations Committee.