The federal government can once again continue processing H-2b visas, the program that traditionally allows foreign roe technicians to work in Alaska seafood plants.
Whether the visas would be available for the summer season was unclear after a court challenge in Florida. But the judge’s decision in that case is now on hold until mid-April. Dennis Phelan of the Pacific Seafood Processors Association says that should be enough time to move this summer’s visas along. Phelan says Alaska’s 100-million-dollar roe industry depends on the H-2b visas.
“There’s probably only 100 of them that we’re bringing over, but it’s crucial employees because they are the representatives on the ground for the folks who are buying the product, in most cases Japanese companies,” Phelan said.
Phelan’s trade association represents nine companies with about 25 processing plants around Alaska. H2-B visas are intended for seasonal non-farm workers. To qualify, employers have to show they can’t fill the positions with U.S. workers. Last year, H2-bs for Alaska jobs were primarily for roe technicians, but several dozen also went to bolster the sales force at jewelry stores in Southeast Alaska that cater to cruise ship passengers. Phelan says his association is still trying to get the industry back in the J-1 visa program, which used to allow thousands of foreign students to come to Alaska to work in processing jobs.