Rep. Harris address H2B visa bills during Hooper’s Island crab house visit
HOOPER’S ISLAND, MD – During his visit to AE Phillips Seafood in Hooper’s Island Wednesday U.S. Representative Andy Harris touted two bills he’s working on that would change the H2B visa lottery system that crab-picking houses rely on to get workers.
For AE Phillips, 2023 meant a staff of up to 25 workers, but that wasn’t the case the last two years, and currently has no guarantee of returning in 2024.
“Two out of the last four years there had been no income coming through here, your debt doesn’t stop your overhead doesn’t stop so it’s big relief,” said AE Phillips Seafood Manager John Walker on the prospect of being open for the season.
But Rep. Harris says his bills would seek to change the quota and lottery system that sees just 66,000 H2B visas issued nationwide.
Among them, a seafood industry-wide exemption to the H2B visa worker cap and a returning worker exemption aimed at giving more picking houses what AE Philips is calling a lucky break, having crabs, pickers, and customers all at the same time.
“A lot of companies, their workers come year after year, the vast majority 70-80-90 percent return, so they could count on those workers a year to year and we would not have ‘for sale’ signs up on the packing houses,” Representative Harris said adding “This is not a large number of workers but a lot of Americans depend on these industries we need temporary workers in the United States.”
He tells us he has been working as part of a coalition to convince senators about the need for the program, such as an estimate that one H1B helps support 4 domestic US jobs.
“It’s also important to remember this is the same pay we would be giving to US workers if we could find them, which usually we can’t, so this is a win-win for the workers who are willing and able to work for 9 months then go home, and the businesses,” Rep. Harris said.
He says his bills would not raise the H1B visa cap, but rather would allow the Seafood industry and its workers to dodge those requirements.
Despite that, he acknowledges the measure needs to be updated moving forward.
“Right now the cap quota is 66,000 that’s clearly inadequate we need probably at least twice that three times as many,” Rep, Harris said.
He said with multiple crab-picking houses closing, the industry is running out of time to get the visa issue resolved.
“At this point, we are so many years into this process they are probably all within a year or two of calling it quits,” Harris said.