Harris leads bipartisan effort for seasonal workers
CENTREVILLE — In a bipartisan letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Kristjen Nielsen dated June 26, Republican Congressman Andy Harris, R-1st, along with 82 other U.S. Representatives, urged for more H-2B visas.
H-2B visas are only granted if the applicant already has a job offer from an employer, the employee must meet the minimum qualification for that position, it is submitted to the U.S. Immigration Bureau and the employee must return home when the visa expires. If the perspective worker is outside the U.S., the employee needs to apply with the U.S. Consulate.
“Seasonal industries across Maryland’s First District and across the United States rely on the H-2B visa program for temporary guest workers when they cannot find American workers,” said Harris in a statement. “H-2B guest workers pay American taxes, collect no government benefits, support American jobs, and return to their home countries when their visas expire. Every H-2B worker is estimated to create and sustain almost five American jobs.”
Harris continued saying that Nielsen should “heed the call of seasonal small businesses nationwide, and release additional H-2B visas.”
In 2018, the Department of Homeland Security has released an additional 15,000 H-2B visas for foreign workers in temporary or seasonal nonagricultural jobs.
In 2017, the Center for Immigration Studies calculated there were 3,864 H-2B visas issued for Maryland with the average hourly wage being $13.36.
That same study found the number of the certified H-2B workers to include: 27 in Stevensville, 18 in Grasonville, 54 in Wye Mills, 100 in Cambridge, 25 in Secretary, 275 in Fishing Creek, 30 in Hoopersville and one in Chestertown.
According to the letter, the Secretary of Homeland Security is empowered by the FY 2018 Omnibus Appropriations Act, to consult with the Secretary of Labor to “approve petitions for admission under the H-2B nonimmigrant temporary worker program up to the new statutory level set in the bill for this fiscal year.”
The letter also argued that the additional 15,000 H-2B visas have not met the demonstrated labor needs of seasonal businesses this year.
Citing the distinct lack of U.S. workers either unqualified or unwilling to fill those positions, the signees called upon the DHS to resume processing such visas. Ignoring the request, according the Congressmen, would imperil domestic companies.
“The lack of H-2B workers jeopardizes the survival of small and seasonal businesses and puts their American workers at risk for losing their jobs. We continue to hear from employers in our districts about business losses, harmful impacts to U.S. workers, and in some cases, the need to close.” noted the letter.
Much of the economic profile of the Maryland’s Eastern Shore involves the fishing and hospitality industries—both heavily contingent on seasonal ebbs and flows.
According to 2018 data by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Maryland boasts 470,000 trade jobs and 277,000 leisure and hospitality jobs.
“We do some business with Maryland crab meat picking operations who were affected by those restrictions,” said Keith Parkerson, general manager of United Shellfish in Grasonville. “We’ve had to deal with less crabs picked early in the season because they lacked the employees. I hope things improve, but I don’t how quickly they can turn around and get the personnel here they need.”
Thus far, the Trump administration or the DHS has yet to make any decision on the release of any additional H-2B visas.