Governor Larry Hogan Calls on Federal Administration to Address H-2B Visa Shortage, Develop Permanent Fix
Releases Short Film Documenting Devastating Impact of Federal Policy Changes on Maryland’s Seafood Industry
ANNAPOLIS, MD – Governor Larry Hogan today called on Trump administration officials to reverse a 2018 decision to limit the number of visas available through the H-2B Temporary Non-Agricultural Workers program, which had a devastating impact on Maryland’s iconic crab and seafood processing industry during the 2018 harvesting season. In a letter to U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Department of Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, Governor Hogan writes:
“In a typical year, 500 H-2B seasonal workers are needed for Maryland’s 20 licensed crab picking houses. Without these temporary workers, and without an end to the arbitrary lottery system, I have been advised by companies and processors that there will be a repeat of last year, in which half of the processors in the state were unable to open for business or forced to significantly reduce their operations.”
The Hogan administration also released a short film entitled The Watermen of Hoopers Island, which highlights the threat that arbitrary federal visa policy changes pose to the crabbing industry and treasured way of life on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. As explained by industry professionals, many crab picking houses could not open during the 2018 season and have lost income due to federal cuts and changes to the H-2B program, which has historically provided temporary workers for the companies. Those losses have had a trickle-down effect on the local economy, impacting supply chain providers, many of whom are small family businesses.
“Without these workers, there will be no more domestic crab meat. We would give this industry up and turn it over to foreign countries, Venezuela for one, who would love to see us not get these workers,” says Harry Phillips, owner of Russell Hall Seafood, in the film. “Crab picking is 40% of our business and we cannot survive another year like this one’s been.”
Governor Hogan continues to urge the federal government to restore the availability of H-2B visas for Maryland’s seafood processors. In April 2018, the governor also appealed to Secretaries Nielsen and Acosta urging this action. Additionally, in June of 2018, the Maryland Board of Public Works unanimously approved a Hogan administration initiative to provide $375,000 from the state’s contingent fund to the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s seafood marketing program, assisting with marketing Maryland blue crabs to help these iconic businesses recover.
In the midst of a looming cut to funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program, the governor is laser focused on protecting Maryland’s – and the nation’s – most precious natural asset, and providing the resources needed to restore the once thriving crab-picking industry. The film will be distributed to members of Congress and the federal administration to support these efforts.
“A second year of hardship could permanently damage Maryland’s seafood industry, causing these iconic family businesses to close and having a devastating impact on jobs in our state,” said the governor. “The loss of these jobs and processors will threaten the livelihoods of commercial crabbers and watermen, and jeopardize our $355 million seafood industry.”