Presidential assistance requested to resolve
April 8, 2004
Murkowski, in a letter to President Bush, asked the President to have the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services resume processing H-2B visa petitions now so that the agency will be prepared to issue visas quickly to summer workers once Congress acts on emergency legislation to address a shortage of visas for this year.
The number of H-2B guest worker visas, which are offered for temporary foreign guest workers, is capped at 66,000 a year. Companies are able to apply for the visas only 120-days prior to when the workers are needed. But because of strong demand for foreign workers early in the fiscal year, the visa cap was reached before summer seafood companies could even apply for worker visas.
Salmon processors annually bring in hundreds of Japanese "supervisor technicians" to oversee the grading and processing of expensive salmon roe (eggs) that usually are sold directly to Japanese buyers. Buyers will not buy the Alaska roe unless the seven different grades of roe per salmon species are overseen by their experts. And since roe sales are vital to the economics of processing some types of salmon, some processors may not buy any salmon this season if they are denied the profits from roe sales. In some cases, the value of the roe is greater than from the flesh of the fish.
"Time is short and industries across the nation are facing the prospect of either not operating or scaling back operations for this summer. They need to make decisions on stocking up supplies or canceling orders quickly. Hundreds of thousands of American jobs will be directly impacted if these visas are not available, not to mention the non-direct impact on support industries," wrote Murkowski in her letter to President Bush signed onto by 14 Senators and Congressmen.*
Murkowski said the visa cap problem was unexpected, as the cap for H-2B visas was reached so early in the year. She said the problem is acute for the Alaska fishing industry but also significant for the tourist and resort industry along the East Coast, the Upper Midwest and Rockies, the catfish and timber industries in Louisiana, for crab processors in North Carolina and for the shrimp industry in Texas.
Murkowski, when first notified of the problem two weeks ago, quickly helped craft legislation to give the Department of Homeland Security statutory authority to address the visa problem. She co-sponsored legislation with Sen. Ted Kennedy to temporarily raise the ceiling on H-2B visas by 40,000. She also has co-sponsored another Senate solution proposed by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to not count workers who had previously entered the United States in the past two years against the existing 66,000 visa cap, thus freeing up visas for summer jobs.
Murkowski is pressing for quick Senate passage of either measure so that the Alaska fishing industry can plan for summer processing operations. A companion bill to the Kennedy-Murkowski bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Don Young last week.
Senators and Congressmen who signed the letter include: Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, Susan Collins, R-Maine, George Allen, R-Va., Judd Gregg, R-N.H., John Sununu, R-N.H., Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, Rep. Don Young, Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Md., Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas, Rep. Jeb Bradley, R-N.H., and Rep. Madeleine Bordallio, D-Guam.
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