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Limiting foreign worker visas puts American jobs at risk

Labor Day marks the traditional end of summer but not the end of seafood season. Maryland blue crabs are abundant until the end of November, with many Marylanders enjoying the delicate, sweet meat through Thanksgiving. Our family has owned and operated Lindy’s Seafood in Woolford, Md. for more than 40 years, and we’re a proud supplier of True Blue Maryland crabs. What my dad started as a small-scale live crab business literally in our back yard has become a wholesale crab company that sells live crabs, fresh Maryland crab meat and oysters to customers across the Mid-Atlantic region and Canada. Today, I am proud to work alongside him as sales manager. Our business generates between $9 million and $10 million annually and employs nearly 135 people. And yet, despite all of our success and hard work, we nearly went under last year.

That’s because in 2018 we weren’t chosen in the visa lottery that allows employers to temporarily hire foreign-born workers. We’ve been using this H-2B visa program since 1983. In addition to the 35 Americans we employ full-time, we need an additional 100 temporary workers to fill our summer production goals. We’ve tried recruiting Americans for these jobs, even launching a national job search and hiring a temp agency. But there just aren’t enough people willing to do the seasonal messy work of crab picking.

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The irony is that Americans are eating more seafood than ever: almost 15 pounds per year, roughly 30 percent more than in 1970, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. But even with over 200,000 Americans working in the seafood industry, we rely on foreign-born workers to meet consumer demand. That’s why, according to a new report from the bipartisan non-profit New American Economy, just 6.8 percent of the seafood we eat is produced in the United States. That’s down from 13.6 percent in 2005 and 22.9 percent in 2000.

Fishing Creek, Md. is a small town, so people have asked why we don’t relocate to a more populous place. But the product is here. Our crabs are caught, steamed and processed within 24 hours, which makes a big difference in quality and taste. Our international competitors are prone to fish illegally, don’t always use sustainable fishing practices, and even commit seafood fraud. So we can either import our seafood and feed our families food that might not be safe or we can import the supplemental workforce American seafood companies need to grow their businesses.

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To give our customers the freshest crabs and oysters, we contract with over 100 local American fishermen. So when we weren’t selected for the lottery last year — there were applications for 96,000 workers and only 33,000 were approved — it was heartbreaking and scary for everyone. Our own families, the Americans we employ, the fishermen we work with, and the restaurants and vendors we supply all worried about making ends meet. Worse, we didn’t find out we were going to be 100 people down until a few weeks before the season kicked into high gear. Our limited staff was forced to sell more whole crabs at a lower price instead of freshly picked Maryland crab meat, which is our real moneymaker. In the end, it cut our company revenue in half.

We were lucky to be selected in the 2019 lottery, but that doesn’t provide long-term stability. If we lose the lottery again, I’m not sure we’ll survive. And that uncertainty means I’m forgoing expensive repairs and new equipment that could help us improve and grow.

Clearly, the current system is broken. And everyone benefits from fixing it. If we reclaimed just 7 percent of imports, essentially the market share we’ve lost since 2005, more than 11,000 jobs would be created for American workers in a variety of industries, according to the New American Economy report. That would result in the country’s total household earnings increasing by more than $450 million and the national Gross Domestic Product growing by almost $820 million.

My dad scrimped, saved and sacrificed to build this company from the ground up. I’m the second generation in my family to work here, and I hope to keep this business in our family for decades to come. It seems unfair and, frankly, un-American that a broken immigration system could be the thing to take it all away. Our family — and the thousands of American families we feed — are counting on our representatives in Congress to do what’s right.

Aubrey Vincent is the sales manager at Lindy’s Seafood in Woolford, Md. Her email is aubrey@lindysseafood.com.

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