Never pass up a chance to sit down or relieve yourself. -old Apache saying

Sunday, April 2, 2017

H-2B visas

And here is another case where Mexicans are not taking jobs that Americans want. Mexicans are taking jobs that Americans refuse to take. Americans expect decent pay, benefits, and air conditioning! How many of you want to get out into the hot fields to pick tomatoes or strawberries, or stay at sea on a shrimp boat for weeks at a time? Not me! But Pedro and Jose will!

Expiration of H-2B exemption puts industry in bind

The Texas shrimp industry, struggling for years 
against high fuel prices and cheap foreign imports, 
faces a new crisis: a major shortage of the 
temporary foreign workers boat owners and 
processing plants depend on to operate.

The shortage is the result of Congress not 
renewing the H-2B Returning Worker Program 
when it expired at the end of September. 
Congress created the exemption in 2015 to help 
industries like seafood, landscaping and 
hospitality fill essential jobs.

The exemption was established after the 
government in 2005 instituted an annual cap of 
66,000 H-2B foreign worker visas, in response 
to a surge in H-2B applications from employers 
since the program started during the late 1980s. 
The cap is divided equally among the two 
halves of the fiscal year — 33,000 the first half 
and 33,000 the last.

As part of the H-2B application process, 
the government requires employers first to 
advertise the jobs to U.S. workers. In the case 
of the shrimp industry, however, it’s very difficult 
to find U.S. workers willing to do the work.

The Rio GrandeValley’s shrimp industry 
increasingly has had to rely on shrimp boat
 workers from Mexico, who tend to have 
experience and in some cases have worked 
on the same U.S. boats for two decades or more.

Now, though, everything has ground to a halt 
since the government announced in March 
that the H-2B visa cap for the second half of 
2017 had been reached, leaving the 
Brownsville-Port Isabel shrimp fleet with a 
drastic shortage of crews just when it needs 
them to prepare for the start of the 2017 Texas 
shrimp season, which happens in mid-July.

The current season closes May 15, though 
most boats are docked for maintenance because 
shrimp harvests are typically meager this time 
of the year.

Lee Caddell, a Port Isabel-based shrimp boat 
owner, said his company’s fleet of nine boats 
has used 18 or 19 H-2B workers who return 
every year. If the exemption isn’t renewed, it 
will be a huge blow to the business, he said.

“If this isn’t fixed, several of those boats will 
not fish because we will not have crews for 
them,” Caddell said. He said the idea that H-2B 
deprives Americans of jobs in the shrimp 
industry is “a crock.”

“They don’t exist,” he said. “Americans don’t
 want to do these jobs. Most shrimpers up and 
down the coast rely on this.” Caddell said the 
returning workers “cause no problems 
whatsoever” and are the last group that should 
be locked out. 

He said he finds it especially galling that out of 
the problems the shrimp industry faces, this 
one is so fixable. “They pay their taxes, they 
break no laws and these guys are honestly doing 
jobs we can’t find anyone else to do,” Caddell 
said. “It does not cost Americans jobs, period. 
If we can find Americans that want to come 
and do these jobs, then we would be thrilled 
to have them.”

Ida Rivera, a bookkeeper with Caddell’s company, 
Bodden & Caddell Inc., said another reason it’s 
hard to fill shrimp jobs with U.S workers is the 
long weeks crews have to spend at sea, plus the 
fact that they’re not eligible for benefits and can’t 
file for unemployment.

In the rare instance when a U.S. citizen has 
responded to a job announcement, he hasn’t 
followed through, she said.

“I had one guy,” Rivera said. “I called him. 
He didn’t show up.”

Jorge Gonzalez Jr., a Brownsville-based shrimp 
fleet operator, comes from a shrimping family 
and has been around shrimp boats since he was 
3 years old. Many of the Mexican shrimpers 
who come over on visas each year also come 
from shrimping families, and that experience 
is valuable to fleet owners, Gonzalez said.

“They’re not scared of hard work,” he said. 
“They come to make money, and better 
themselves and better their families’ situation. 
It’s a plus for them, and it’s a plus for us.”

Gonzalez said he loves what he does for a living 
and thinks Gulf shrimp is the best tasting in the 
world, though he admitted it’s going to be a tough 
season if the returning worker exemption isn’t 
reinstated. A manpower shortage cuts into how 
much shrimp can be harvested, which is obviously 
damaging to business, he said.

“Some (boats) won’t be able to fish,” Gonzalez 
said. “We’re going to try to get out there, but 
we might just have a skeleton crew.”

Andrea Hance, executive director of the Texas 
Shrimp Association, said her organization has 
teamed up with the “big guys,” Maryland-based 
American Seafood Jobs Alliance, to press the 
issue in Congress with a louder voice.

“It’s probably one of the most complicated issues 
that I’ve been in the middle of,” she said.

Hance, also a shrimp boat owner, said the 
returning worker exemption has become 
“tangled up perception-wise with immigration.” 
Despite what some people believe, fleet owners 
aren’t passing over U.S. workers so they can get 
foreign workers for less money, she said.

Hance said boat owners pay $1,500 to $2,000 
for each H-2B worker who is approved and have 
to deal with a mountain of paperwork. The 
occasional U.S. worker who is hired for a shrimp 
job usually doesn’t last, she said.

“We have to spend our money to train them, 
and less than 1 percent of the U.S. workers that 
we train to put on boats will make a full trip,” 
she said. “They’ll want off the boat in one or 
two weeks.”

H-2B workers account for about 40 percent of 
Texas shrimp industry employees, she said.
“This is probably one of the most devastating 
things we’ve ever been faced with,” Hance said.

Local shrimpers are organizing to lobby their 
political representatives on the issue. A group 
of representatives with the industry met with 
U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela on March 31 in 
Brownsville to present a petition. Vela said 
after the meeting that he had just recently 
learned of the problem and isn’t sure whether 
political opposition or simple neglect is why 
the exemption wasn’t renewed, though he 
intends to find out.

Vela said he signed an appropriations letter to 
try to get the exemption language back in, and 
a few days ago put his name on a bill to solve 
the problem. He said he’s been talking to 
colleagues with constituents affected by the 
issue — Rep. Blake Farenthold for instance — 
to try to get their support for the exemption. 
That effort will continue when Vela returns to 
the Capitol next week, he said.


No comments: