Maryland seafood industry loses 40 percent of workforce in visa lottery

Maryland crab houses have lost nearly half of their crab picker workers due to the changes in H-2B visa, thus putting at crisis the seafood industry. Many of these businesses have not had a single worker to pick crabs since the season started in April 1. The owners complain that the updated H-2B visa has turned not only in a lottery that randomly picks people to come and work in this industry but also a lottery that decides whose business lives and whose business dies.

For the first time in the history of H-2B visa which allows companies to bring low skilled workers to come and fill job shortages in the US, the visas have been awarded in a lottery on a first-served basis, instead of on a first-come.

The beneficiaries of H-2B visas of crab picking companies were mostly Mexican people, including many women who have been coming to the US for the crab season in nearly two decades.

According to the Director of the Chesapeake Bay Seafood Industries Association, Bill Sieling, 20 licensed crab processors in Maryland, employ around 500 foreign employers each year on H-2B visa program.

Whereas, the federal labor officials claim that they received 81 thousand applications of foreign workers while there were only 33 thousand available visas from April through September. The work visas under H-2B visa program have been so sought after lately, that the officials decided to award them by lottery.

The crab industry in Maryland has been depending on foreign workers since the 1980, when the last generations of Eastern Shore women who used to pick crab meat aged.

It is still unknown whether the absence of workers will make the prices for crabs go up, but there is a high probability for such a thing to happen..