Visa Advocates Take Case for Seasonal Workers to Capitol Hill


WASHINGTON (Sept. 16, 2008)—Theodore Anderson has worked for a small Cambridge crabbing company for 44 years, and he's afraid that stint will soon end.

So on Wednesday, Sept. 10, Anderson joined his boss, Jack Brooks, one of the owners of J.M. Clayton Co., and more than 200 other small business owners from Maryland and throughout the country in asking their state representatives to save their jobs by pushing a bill to restore H2-B visas.

"If it doesn't get passed, I don't know what to do, I don't know where to go, I don't know how it's going to play out," Anderson said.

The bill, Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act of 2007, is an amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act, which limited the number of temporary workers that could enter the country. The amendment labels H2-B visa holders as returning workers, removing limits on how many of those workers can return to work each season.

The visas, which allow foreign workers to legally enter the country and work at a seasonal job for about six to eight months, help provide workers to fill spots American workers won't take, said Hank Lavery, president of Save Small Business, the group that organized the meetings with the representatives. He said Americans are not attracted to the jobs because they only last through a particular season.

"We're advertising the jobs, we're doing everything we can to find Americans, but somebody trying to raise a family can't do it on a six-month job," Lavery said. "And there are not enough young Americans, or any Americans, willing to do the jobs."

But the American workers the companies do employ will likely lose their jobs if the bill is not passed because the business will have to close, Lavery said.

"This is about American jobs; this is not about immigration," he said to the business owners before they went to meetings.

To get that point across to the representatives, the owners talked specifically about the Maryland crabbing industry, which would lose an estimated 2.54 domestic workers for every H2-B visa job taken away, according to a University of Maryland, College Park study released Monday.

Business owners from other industries, such as landscaping, nurseries, swimming pools, restaurants and hotels, also came to tell their stories to the Maryland congressional representatives.

Brooks, who led the Maryland business owners' meetings, said he felt the representatives were receptive to their cause.

"I think we're making headway because people are understanding where we are, what's at stake," Brooks said. "This is a jobs issue, along with a small business issue, and thousands of jobs are going to be lost. And I really do think that's having an impact."

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, said he agreed the issue was about saving American jobs.

"They're not staying here are they?" he asked sarcastically, referring to the stipulation of the H2-B visas that requires foreign workers to return to their home countries as soon as they are done with the job.

The representatives, or their staff members, all said they would do what they can to support H2-B. But Rep. C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger, D-Cockeysville, said he's not sure if they will have an impact before this session of Congress ends with all the other things on the agenda.

"Those of us who represent Maryland, who live in Maryland ... we need to be vigilant, we need to be on top of it, and we're going to try to do whatever we can, but I don't see, being realistic, I don't see a lot happening," Ruppersberger said.

The biggest problem is the bill is attached to immigration issues.

"Shame on Congress and the president for not bringing us together and resolving the immigration issue," Ruppersburger said. "It's tearing our country apart."

Capital News Service contributed to this report.

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