March 21, 2024

Van Hollen Meets with Eastern Shore Crab Houses, Highlights Efforts to Support Seafood Industry’s Employment Needs

WASHINGTON – Friday, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) visited J.M. Clayton Seafood Company to meet with local crab house representatives and discuss efforts to support Maryland’s seafood businesses. During the conversation, the Senator specifically highlighted work to address issues with the H-2B visa program – which is essential to meeting the industry’s employment needs – and help ensure companies can hire the seasonal workers they need to stay in business and operate at full capacity. The Senator has repeatedly and successfully pressed the Department of Homeland Security to make available the maximum number of visas in order to meet Maryland’s seafood businesses’ needs. He has also helped introduce legislation, the Save Our Seafood Act, along with U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) to help close the seafood labor shortage gap in the long-term.

“Maryland’s small, family-owned seafood businesses like J.M. Clayton are vital to our state’s identity and economy – processing our renowned blue crabs and generating millions of dollars in economic activity annually. But these small businesses constantly struggle to hire enough workers at the time when they need them,” said Senator Van Hollen. “While I push every year to ensure the Administration makes the maximum number of H-2B visas available for the seafood industry, they cannot continue to operate when their very survival literally depends on winning the visa lottery. That’s why I am working to pass a permanent, tailored fix for the H-2B program to better position Maryland’s seafood businesses to consistently meet their labor demands while supporting American jobs. This long-term legislative solution – along with our ongoing fight to protect the workers in this industry – is critical to the enduring success of Maryland’s cherished seafood industry.”

Maryland’s small seafood businesses have historically employed foreign workers through the H-2B visa program when domestic workers cannot be found to fill all positions. They tend to hire approximately 500 workers through the program for the annual crab season, which runs from April to November. However, in recent years, the H-2B visa has become an increasingly uncertain source of labor as economy-wide demand for the program has surged, ultimately squeezing out the seafood industry. Maryland’s seafood companies do not have flexibility in their visa timing needs – meaning that if workers are not available to process crabs when harvest occurs, businesses face closure, either for the season or for good.

Since fiscal year 2017, Senator Van Hollen has worked in Congress to authorize the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in the annual appropriations laws to issue additional H-2B visas beyond the statutory cap, subject to specified conditions, to help Maryland’s seafood industry. Senator Van Hollen, along with Senator Cardin, fought successfully to extend the authorization for supplemental visas through the fiscal year 2023 government funding legislation and short-term continuing resolution (CR) that they worked to pass in September.

During his visit to J.M. Clayton, Senator Van Hollen highlighted that, as a result of the push to continue to allow for supplemental visas, DHS released 130,716 H-2B temporary nonagricultural worker visas for fiscal year 2024 – comprised of the 66,000 H-2B visas that DHS can release annually under the Immigration and Nationality Act, as well as 64,716 supplemental visas.

Senator Van Hollen also discussed his work to address this longstanding issue by working to pass the Save Our Seafood Act, which exempts crab processing and purchasing companies from the 66,000 annual cap on H-2B visa allocation. Exempting Maryland seafood businesses from the cap will provide the certainty they need to remain in operation and preserve the viability of this iconic industry.

Text of the Save Our Seafood Act can be viewed here.

The Senators introduced this legislation as the Biden Administration has also taken action to strengthen labor rights and protections for H-2B workers.