Legislation introduced this month would exempt seasonal workers in the seafood processing industry from the cap limit on temporary foreign workers who can enter the US on H-2B visas.

The bill aims to help seafood processors hire the seasonal workers they need in a timely manner and avoid the uncertainty of the H-2B lottery, according to US Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., a co-sponsor of the bipartisan legislation. It would permanently exempt seasonal, nonimmigrant workers who work in seafood processing from the cap on H-2B visas, allowing processors to hire the workforce they need when they need them to meet the increased demand at the start of the harvesting season.

The Save Our Seafood (SOS) Act, introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, is modeled after a law that exempts fish roe processors from the cap, Virginia’s public radio WVTF reported.

“Just take that and expand it a little bit,” said Kaine. “So, the idea of a small change that doesn’t make everyone else rush in and say, ‘I’ve got to get what I want.’ That’s been the challenge. It’s easier to slightly expand something that’s already in law than to put something new in.”

Virginia’s seafood businesses rely on seasonal workers to keep their operations up and running, according to Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. However, even in the best of circumstances, seafood processors struggle to find enough workers to meet demand.

“This legislation would exempt seasonal, nonimmigrant workers in the seafood processing industry from the limits on H-2B visas, allowing processors to fully staff their operations during harvest season, avoid the frustrating uncertainty of the H-2B lottery and focus on growing their businesses,” Warner said in a press release.

In November, the US Department of Homeland Security announced the number of available H-2B visas for temporary nonagricultural workers is being increased by 64,716 for federal fiscal year 2024, which began Oct. 1. The newly announced visas will be in addition to the congressionally mandated existing 66,000 H-2B visas available each year.

In addition to Murkowski, Kaine and Warner, the SOS Act was introduced by Senators Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.; Ben Cardin, D-Md.; Dan Sullivan, R-Ak.; Bill Cassidy, R-La.; John Kennedy, R-La.; and Thom Tillis, R-N.C. The full text of the bill is available here.