Maryland is famous for its crab, but thanks to the Trump administration’s changes to immigration policy, the state’s crab industry may soon be underwater.
Each spring, Maryland’s crab industry relies on roughly 500 predominantly Mexican guest workers to work seasonally between April and September to pick crab, paying them by the pound. Some of the most productive crab pickers make approximately $500 per week. However, according to the Baltimore Sun, this year is the first time that the federal government has awarded visas through a lottery system rather than the traditional first-come, first-serve basis.
Because of these changes, approximately 200 visas for guest workers coming to Maryland to pick crab were denied, meaning the industry has lost approximately 40 percent of its workforce.
“Companies that have been relying on this system for 25 years suddenly have no workers,” Chesapeake Bay Seafood Industries Director Bill Seiling told the Sun. “It’s totally unfair and irrational.”
In addition to the crab processors, workers who were denied visas are also now unable to have a way to support their families back home.
“Our families depend on us and going to the United States is the best option because here in Mexico it is very difficult to find a job and apart from that you face the risk of so much crime,” crab picker Anayeni Chavarria Ponce told the Sun in a text message in Spanish. “Not to mention you can’t reach a salary even to buy the basics.”
The H-2B visa program, which is typically used for seasonal agricultural/horticultural work, is capped by federal statute at just 66,000, even though employers filed roughly 81,000 requests for H-2B visas for guest workers. Rather than lift the H-2B visa cap, the Trump administration implemented a lottery system for the first time, leading to the denials of crab workers’ visas.
Other industries are also feeling pressured by the demand of H-2B visas outpacing the supply. Despite Trump guiding his immigration policy by the catchphrase “America first,” many American industries simply can’t find U.S. citizens willing to do the backbreaking manual labor required for the work typically done by immigrants.
Texas Shrimp Association Andrea Hance told the Houston Chronicle in April that two-thirds of the U.S. citizens Texas shrimpers hired in 2017 quit after less than one week on the job.
“We’re not an industry that pays poverty wages at all, we just cannot find anyone who wants to do that job,” Hance said.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) recently wrote a letter to the Trump administration demanding immigration officials raise the cap on the H-2B visa program in order to save the state’s seafood processors.
“Many of these businesses operate in rural parts of our state and have relied on guest workers for decades,” Gov. Hogan wrote. “They will be forced to shut their doors or start importing crab meat if this issue is not addressed immediately.”
Jake Shepherd is a freelance writer from Cleveland, Ohio. He enjoys poring through financial disclosure statements, spirited debate, and good scotch. He remains eternally optimistic about the Browns. Email him at jake.d.shepherd.21 (at) hotmail (dot) com.