Reporter Bryn Stole of The Advocate's Washington D.C.desk filed this story on guest laborers who are only needed seasonally.
Photo: Local laborers are difficult to find for seasonal labor in sugarcane, seafood processing and landscaping industries. Sugarcane millers rely on the H2B visa program to procure specialized labor for the sugar boiler position, a technical job inside the sugar mill. Photo by Sam Irwin
WASHINGTON, DC – Seafood processors, sugar cane millers and landscapers in Louisiana are worried there won't be enough visas available for the foreign seasonal laborers they need in the coming months.
The seafood and sugar industries have long relied on foreign guest workers to staff plants, but federal limits on H-2B visas for temporary immigrant laborers and a tightening U.S. job market have left many employers uncertain if they’ll have enough workers to shuck oysters, peel shrimp, shred sugar cane and even mow lawns.
Congress last year let lapse an exemption that let returning workers claim visas, triggering a fight for 66,000 available documents. The Trump administration provided limited relief, releasing an extra 15,000 H-2B visas beyond the cap each of the past two years, though some in Congress has urged it to release more.
Louisiana employers who rely on the visas to bring in workers, many if not most from Latin America, say local workers aren’t eager for the positions, which usually pay above minimum wage but don’t offer steady year-round work. Hiring local has become even tougher as the economy heats up and unemployment drops to the lowest levels since 2000.