North Carolina seafood processors and other industries across the nation that rely on importing seasonal workers have been given a temporary reprieve that should enable them to bring in additional foreign workers over the short term.
Moves that enabled the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Labor to temporarily resume processing petitions for H-2B visas, which they halted in the wake of a March 4 federal court ruling, also is good news for foreign workers who count on the income they earn working for U.S. businesses.
“It’s a temporary solution,” said Brent Gilroy, spokesman for the Coalition to Save America’s Seafood Industry, which represents seafood processors in North Carolina and elsewhere along the Atlantic Coast. “Obviously, we need something long-term and predictable.”
Seafood processors along the North Carolina coast have been especially alarmed because crab fishing season begins at the outset of April and they rely on seasonal workers to cut the crabs open and extract the meat. Other industries impacted include hospitality and tourism, forestry and landscaping.
The H-2B visa program is for unskilled, nonagricultural workers and is capped at 66,000 workers nationwide per year.
Homeland Security announced Tuesday that it would resume processing visa applications submitted by employers who already have received certifications from the U.S. Department of Labor affirming that U.S. workers aren’t available for the temporary jobs they’re offering.
Although that didn’t help employers who hadn’t yet received the necessary certification from the Labor Department, that situation, too, was temporarily resolved on Wednesday by a federal judge in Florida. U.S. District Court Judge M. Casey Rodgers granted the agency’s request for a 30-day stay of her March 4 order that triggered the freeze in the first place when she ruled that the agency lacked the authority to issue regulations for the program.
Obtaining that stay will temporarily enable the Labor Department to resume certifying employers’ applications to employ foreign workers, said Clermont Ripley, a migrant worker attorney with the nonprofit N.C. Justice Center. The judge’s order expires in 30 days.
At the same time, Homeland Security and the Labor Department are working on a long-term solution: They have announced that they intend to jointly issue regulations for the program by April 30. By jointly issuing regulations, Ripley said, the agencies would be in compliance with the court ruling.
Jerry Schill, president of the N.C. Fisheries Association, which represents the state’s commercial fishing industry, said of the agencies’ actions: “Yes, indeed, it is very good news. (But) it shouldn’t have been an issue in the first place.” Schill was concerned that the freeze on H-2B visas would have left crab fishermen without a market for their catch.
“I give credit to the people who put pressure on the politicians and the politicians who put pressure on the bureaucrats,” he said.
A bipartisan group of more than 20 senators, including North Carolina’s two Republican senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, had urged the agencies to resume processing H-2B visa applications. They argued in a letter to heads of the two agencies that the court ruling didn’t require shutting down the program.