New visa rules that could hurt Maryland’s seafood industry will be delayed for 60 days, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said Thursday, giving the state a temporary reprieve.
At issue is the federal government’s H-2B visas, which are given to temporary foreign workers. The Maryland crab industry employs thousands of such workers each year.
Under new U.S. Labor Department rules, their wages would have gone up Oct. 1 — in the middle of crabbing season — potentially leading to the loss of 1,000 jobs in the seafood industry, Mikulski said in a statement issued by her office. Now the rule change has been postponed until Nov. 30.
“We got a pause, but I’m going to keep fighting for a long-term solution that is fair for workers and viable for preserving jobs in Maryland’s seafood industry,” Mikulski said. “These are jobs that once they are lost, they will never come back. I will not stop fighting until we have a sensible approach to H-2B wages.”
Mikulski and other Maryland officials have long been advocates for the H-2B program, working to ensure that there are enough visas available each year to fill the seafood industry’s needs.
The industry contends that the new rule would make it harder to employ all the workers it needs, but some advocacy groups say crab-pickers need better working conditions and that the increased wage scale could make the jobs more attractive to Americans — making it unnecessary to hire as many temporary foreign workers.
Separately, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a spending bill Wednesday that included a Mikulski-authored provision delaying the wage increase for a year.
“Until this issue is resolved, I am going to keep attaching this amendment to any bill that has a shot at becoming law,” Mikulski said Thursday.