Rep. Andy Harris meets with seafood process industry about H-2B visas
WOOLFORD, Md. - It's no doubt that when you think of Maryland, you think of blue crabs. But this season has presented new issues that has made it tougher on the industry.
Their biggest hurdle has been the H-2B Visa Program. Usually, these operations are fully up and running with the help of those visa workers, but with a change in the program, they are now shorthanded.
Businesses across the country have requested 81,000 workers, but only 33,000 visas can be handed out. So instead of increasing the cap, the Trump administration decided to do a lottery and it has affected our own operations here on the shore.
Aubrey Vincent, Co-Owner from Lindy's Seafood tells us, "Those limited spots were dulled out by a lottery in the computer. A lot of companies like ours, who have been consistently been using the program, consistently following the rules, this will be our 23rd summer, unfortunately weren't picked by the computer. We couldn't get our workers."
But it's not a complete loss just yet. On Friday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued 15,000 more visas. Businesses can apply to get their hands on more workers starting May 31st.
Representative Andy Harris has been very supportive in helping out these Eastern Shore companies, who are pretty understaffed. On Wednesday, he met with several leaders in the seafood processing industry to talk about the issues at hand.
"15,000 isn't going to be enough visas for all the need. All the seasonal companies that are looking for temporary help but it's something, it's a step in the right direction," Vincent says.
At the start of crabbing season in April, Lindy's Seafood is usually fully staffed. But that wasn't the case for this season. They usually have 25-30 full-time American employees but now those workers are working double. They are hoping to get between 75-100 visa pickers in order finish the season strong.
After a rough start for all these businesses, they hope to sail into calmer waters by getting the support from Representative Andy Harris.
Representative Harris says, "My goal is try to get them by the end of June but certainly not past the July 4th holiday. Hopefully, we can have these workers here. We're going to get additional workers in and then as we plan to make sure this doesn't happen again next year. So, it's really important to hear the feedback and to see what ways to improve the system and to see how to make this system work for Maryland industries."
One possibility that could also happen for a future plan is taking the seafood processing workers out of the H-2B program, which has a quota and cap, and putting them into the H-2A. We're told it has different rules and it doesn't have a cap.