Senators call for more seasonal work visas to help seafood industry

National

FILE – In this July 24, 2014, file photo, mounds of crumbled concrete and shucked oyster shells intended to be submerged to help rebuild oyster reefs sit along the roadside in Hopedale, La. U.S. House members from three Gulf Coast states are backing their governors’ request for a fisheries disaster declaration, saying freshwater flooding into saltwater ecosystems has killed oysters, hurt fish catches and damaged livelihoods. (AP Photo/Stacey Plaisance, File)

WASHINGTON (WAVY) – Seven senators are asking the Department of Homeland Security to allow additional visas for temporary non-agricultural workers.

The senators say the authorization is needed to help support seafood businesses in Virginia and states like Alaska, Maryland, and North Carolina.

H-2B visas allow employers to temporarily hire non-immigrants to perform nonagricultural labor or services in the United States.

Officials say the visas are critical to the survival of Virginia’s seafood industry – particularly the seafood processing community around the Chesapeake Bay.

Last month, Warner met with Virginia seafood processors in Tappahannock, who expressed concern with their inability to fill their seasonal labor needs.

This resulted in lost supply agreements with grocery stores and other customer suppliers who were forced to turn to foreign imports for their orders.

The Virginia Institute of Marine Science says the commercial seafood industry in Virginia generates $407.9 million in economic output, which includes all economic activity from harvesters to restaurants.

Of that $407.9 million, 62 percent comes from seafood processing and wholesaling firms – the primary companies that rely on the H-2B worker program.

“Many of the seafood businesses we represent are family-owned operations that go back multiple generations, often in rural areas of our states. Despite good-faith efforts to find local seasonal workers, our seafood industries rely on H-2B workers for tough jobs such as shucking oysters and processing crabs,” wrote the senators.

Click here to view the full letter signed by Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Dan Sullivan (D-AK), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)

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