The U.S. Senate is considering legislation to allow foreign students to once again work in the seafood processing industry. The state department removed food manufacturing from the J1 program last year and put new restrictions on working hours. The legislation puts fish processing back into the program and charges a fee for each foreign worker. It was attached to a border security amendment accepted Monday that’s part of the larger immigration overhaul bill.
The legislation also makes a new, longer term visa designed to replace the J1 for seafood processing and other guest worker programs. “W” visas are good for 3 years. Sponsor Mark Begich calls for a 3 year pilot program with a maximum of 5 thousand seafood visas in Alaska. The new Bureau of Workforce Development would consulate with Alaska to ensure that local residents have had a chance at the jobs before opening it to foreign workers.
Fish processors have stated that without the J1 students, they would not be able to find enough workers to keep the lines running.
The J-1 Visa Summer Work Travel Program was intended for students to participate in a cultural exchange. Concerns about the summer work program were raised last year regarding safety and work conditions in the lower 48. Around 4-thousand foreign college students work in the Alaska seafood processing industry during the summer months.