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Begich Continues Fight to Protect Alaska Fishing Industry

Begich Amendment Will Help Seafood Industry Recruit and Hire Seasonal Workers

Determined to ensure the Alaska seafood processing industry maintains a steady and reliable workforce, U.S. Senator Mark Begich today announced an amendment to the immigration bill that would enable Alaska processors to tap into a pool of guest workers when their efforts to hire at home are unsuccessful.  The immigration bill, S. 744, is under debate this month on the Senate floor.

“The seafood industry provides many Alaskans with living wage jobs that support their families and local economies,” said Sen. Begich. “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 my amendment will help them transition to the new proposed guest worker program.”

While the seafood industry offers the opportunity to earn good wages, it is also known for long hours and seasonal work under cold and wet conditions.  Alaska processors have traditionally relied on guest workers to fill in jobs on their processing lines, especially in remote locations which lack an adequate local workforce. 

Begich criticized the 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.  As outlined in the proposed amendment, the new Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Research would consult with the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development to certify the need for guest workers in Alaska fishing communities.

“This amendment requires the seafood industry to hire at home first but also allows foreign guest workers to step in as they traditionally have in Alaska,” said Sen. Begich. “My amendment gives the seafood industry access to the labor resources it needs, ensures plants in coastal communities can operate at full capacity during the often short summer fishing season, allows American fishermen to deliver their full catch, and keeps Alaska as the premier fishing state in the nation.”

Sen. Begich and staff are working on the final language for the amendment and expect to introduce it this week. 

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