Crab concerns: Maryland seafood trade workforce nearly halved by Trump visa lottery

BALTIMORE (AP) — Nearly half of the crab houses in Maryland have no workers to pick crab meat after their mostly Mexican workers failed to get visas.

The Baltimore Sun reports the Trump administration for the first time awarded the visas in a lottery this year, instead of the usual first-come, first-served basis. The shortage hits just as crab season begins. Crab processors say it may cause the price of picked meat to spike while lowering steamed crab prices.

The Sun reports visa shortages are a regular industry issue, but crab house owners say this is the worst they've faced. Bill Seiling is director of the Chesapeake Bay Seafood Industries Association. He says Maryland's 20 licensed crab processors typically employ about 500 foreign workers each season through the H-2B visa program, which is for seasonal workers in non-agricultural jobs. He says about 200 of those visa applications were denied.

Federal labor officials say there was an unprecedented demand for H-2B visas in January. About 81,000 applications were submitted when only 33,000 were available for work from April through September. U.S. Customs and Immigration Services then received applications to bring about 47,000 workers to the United States for that timespan in the latter part of the two-step application process. The amount of requests prompted the lottery approach to the visa awards.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has written to the secretaries of homeland security and labor asking the federal government "take immediate action" and raise the visa cap. The industry expects another lottery for 15,000 more visas to be announced this month. However, the Sun reports that a federal immigration agency spokesman says he has no information about whether more visas might be made available.

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Information from: The Baltimore Sun, http://www.baltimoresun.com

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