U.S. Senator Mark Begich yesterday announced an amendment to the immigration bill that would enable Alaska seafood processors to tap into a pool of guest workers when their efforts to hire at home are unsuccessful.
The immigration bill is currently under debate this month on the Senate floor.
Begich said that the seafood industry provides many Alaskans with living wage jobs that support their families and local economies, however, when seafood processors cannot recruit enough employees to work in their processing plants, the entire system is jeopardized. Without adequate processing capacity – fishermen can’t deliver their catch, families lose income, and communities lose tax revenue. Seafood industry employers must be able to recruit and hire and his amendment will help them transition to the new proposed guest worker program.
Begich criticized the Obama Administration’s actions last year to eliminate seafood processing from the J-1 “Summer Work Travel” program, which was popular with foreign college students seeking seasonal employment. In January, Sen. Begich asked incoming Secretary of State John Kerry to reconsider that decision.
While he still supports reinstating fish processing into the J-1 program, Sen. Begich also proposes helping processors transition to the new “W” visa program created in the immigration bill. The W-visa program would consolidate guest worker programs and is targeted at occupations that are certified to lack enough domestic applicants.
To facilitate the seafood industry’s transition to the W-visa program, Begich’s amendment calls for a 3-year pilot program limited to no more than 5,000 W-visas in Alaska
Sen. Begich and staff are working on the final language for the amendment and expect to introduce it this week.