xml:space="preserve">
The Trump administration said Friday that it is making an additional 30,000 visas available so that businesses – including Maryland crab houses – will have sufficient migrant laborers. Females and small male Maryland blue crabs are shown in this 2018 photo from St. Michaels.
The Trump administration said Friday that it is making an additional 30,000 visas available so that businesses – including Maryland crab houses – will have sufficient migrant laborers. Females and small male Maryland blue crabs are shown in this 2018 photo from St. Michaels. (Kim Hairston / The Baltimore Sun)

The Trump administration said Friday that it is making an additional 30,000 visas available so that businesses — including Maryland crab houses — will have sufficient migrant laborers.

Visa shortages have long been an issue for crab-picking houses that rely on a guest worker program because they say they can’t find enough workers in the U.S.

Advertisement

In January, the Eastern Shore businesses scrambled to be among the first to apply for 30,000 visas made available nationally on April 1 to crab processing plants, landscapers, amusement parks and other industries.

‘Extremely lucky’ Maryland crab industry is weathering a storm over Mexican worker shortages. But the industry says issues remain with a program that supplies it with needed guest workers to pick crabs.

But having more seasonal laborers available this year “will bring welcome relief and ensure that crab houses have a reliable workforce,” Democratic U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland said Friday in a statement.

The additional 30,000 visas are being made available only to those people who have been in the program before and are classified as “returning workers.”

The crab houses say that while they were fortunate this year, they worry about future years because the program is overwhelmed by demand.

The Maryland Board of Public Works on Wednesday granted a state seafood marketing campaign an extra $375,000 to help promote the crab industry as it grapples with a shortage of immigrant workers.

In a March 7 letter, Van Hollen and and fellow Democratic U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland had urged U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to grant more visas under the H-2B program. Gov. Larry Hogan and U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, both Republicans, also urged federal officials to release more visas.

Harris, whose congressional district includes the Eastern Shore, noted in a March 6 letter that Congress granted Homeland Security authority to release up to 69,320 additional visas during the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.

Maryland's crab industry is in crisis, with nearly half of the Eastern Shore businesses without any workers to pick the meat sold in restaurants and supermarkets. They failed to get visas for the mostly Mexican laborers who pick the crabs when the Trump administration awarded them in a lottery.

Andrea Palermo, a department spokesperson, said Friday that — while the agency has limited discretion to raise the worker cap — it is up to Congress to oversee the program.

“The truth is that Congress is in the best position to know the appropriate number of H-2B visas that American businesses should be allocated without harming U.S. workers,” Palermo said.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement