Few picks for seafood worker visas

CAMBRIDGE — This is one number that didn’t hit for Dorchester.

Seafood companies and related industries will have a hard time staying busy — or even open — this year, after the federal government’s H2B visa lottery came up short for local businesses. County Council President Jay Newcomb (Dist. 1) spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, saying that the U.S. government had returned to the system which left some local crab pickers shuttered two years ago.

They had been unable to bring their seasonal workers up from Mexico for the six-month stretches many had spent here for years. The loss of dependable labor meant that some companies couldn’t produce crabmeat and other products the local economy depends on.

Nationwide, there were 5,700 applications, Mr. Newcomb said, for a total of 997,000 visas. Among the other industries looking for temporary workers around the nation are landscaping, hospitality and construction.
“They released 33,000 visas,” Mr. Newcomb said of the U.S. Department of Labor. They are in groups designated A, B, C, D and E, which will share different proportions of the visas.

Group A will comprise 30,000, so a company that drew that letter will be about 95 percent sure of getting their visas. Group B will have about a 25 percent chance of getting theirs, Group C a 10 percent chance, with D and E having an even lower probability.

“Three got A, one got B, four or five got C,” Mr. Newcomb said of local seafood processors. “That affects the whole county.”

He added that statistics show the national workforce is not growing, while immigration is decreasing, making it more difficult to for many companies to find the labor they need. “They’re saying our workforce is getting so short, but the people in Washington can’t seem to understand that,” Mr. Newcomb said.

There are still 60,000 more visas that could be released, he said. The council voted unanimously to send a letter to the Maryland delegation in Congress in support of making them available.