Md. seafood processors face lack of workers

February 01, 2005|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

Maryland seafood processors and advocates for the Hispanic community are working together to solve a labor shortage that could cripple the summer crab-picking season.

The seafood processors learned last month that most of the temporary workers who have picked crabs and shucked oysters for more than a decade would not be able to return to their seasonal jobs this year.

The workers are being denied entry because of a nationwide limit that Congress established for the number of seasonal working permits, known as H-2B visas. The Department of Homeland Security announced it had reached that limit of 66,000 workers on Jan. 4 - well before many seafood businesses were allowed to apply.

The groups discussed the issue yesterday in a meeting arranged by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, who brought watermen, seafood processors and Hispanic community advocates together. Among the groups represented were CASA de Maryland and the Spanish Catholic Center, part of Catholic Charities.

Being discussed is whether legal immigrants could fill some seafood industry jobs. The community groups talked about the job programs they offered, and the industry representatives discussed the jobs they needed filled.

Mikulski is meeting with senators from other states that rely on H-2B workers, in hopes of expanding the limit next year. Republican Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest joined Mikulski to support a proposal exempting some foreign workers from the limit. Staff members for Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes said they were also working on the issue.

This year was the second time the limit was met early. Last year, it was filled in March, but most of the seafood industry had their workers by then.

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