Feds to Allow Additional Foreign Workers in Alaska Commercial Fisheries

U.S. Department of Labor
Image via U.S. Department of Labor.

An additional 35,000 visas are being made available for foreign workers willing to fill nonagricultural jobs in the second half of fiscal year 2022, an action that is expected to help fill many jobs at Pacific Northwest seafood processors.

The announcement by federal officials on March 31 was hailed By Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Chris Barrows, president of the Pacific Seafood Processors Association in Seattle, as a boon to industry efforts to fill hundreds of onshore and at-sea jobs, particularly in the groundfish sector.

Murkowski praised officials in the departments of Homeland Security and Labor for allowing the additional workers.

“With the tourism and fishing season right around the corner, and the economic fallout we have seen from COVID, it is vital to ensure Alaskans have the needed workers to supplement our local workforce,” Murkowski said. “The federal H-2B program has been crucial in Alaska, allowing businesses to hire workers from other countries for positions and jobs they otherwise cannot fill, despite their best efforts to recruit Alaskans and Americans to fill their vacancies.”

“The additional 35,000 H-2B visas announced … for the second half of FY22 are a potential lifeline to some seafood processing companies in Alaska, who may otherwise be short-staffed this summer,” PSPA President Chris Barrows noted. “These visas were authorized only weeks ago in the consolidated appropriations bill, and we’re grateful for Senator Murkowski’s work and leadership leading up to the announcement.”

The two federal agencies announced in January an additional 20,000 H-2B visas, the first release of supplemental visas in the beginning of the fiscal year. The program allows businesses to hire workers from foreign countries or fill temporary positions that have remained vacant despite companies’ attempts to hire locally.

The visas are frequently used to support Alaska’s seafood and tourism industries, and for foreign workers to work a season in the U.S. before returning to their home countries.