H-2B Worker Program and the Louisiana Seafood Processing Industry

Maria Bampasidou and Mohammad Rajib Hasan

One of every 70 jobs in Louisiana is related to seafood. Seafood is part of the cultural and culinary identity of the state. Crawfish, crabs, shrimp, oysters, alligator and finfish are produced and processed in Louisiana. Also, Louisiana is the only state commercially producing alligator products, and the crawfish industry competes in the world market.

The Louisiana seafood processing industry is labor-intensive and depends on seasonal and temporary hired labor. One source is foreign workers hired under the H-2B program. Factors affecting this program include the statutory cap, the application process, and a potential increase in the minimum wage schedule. All could influence the industry in terms of the number of people it is able to afford to employ.

The H-2B program allows employers to hire temporary foreign workers (often called guest workers or nonimmigrant workers) in low-skill, nonagricultural seasonal positions. Congress has established an annual limited of 66,000 people who can be granted H-2B status. This is a statutory cap with 33,000 spots available for employment from October 1 to March 31 and the rest from April 1 to September 30. Within this cap, the seafood processing industry competes with other industries. In Louisiana, major competitors include landscaping and sugar, seafood and meat processing.

The cap often is reached prior to the end of the application period. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Foreign Labor Certification, the first-half FY 2018 cap was reached on December 15, 2017, and the second-half cap was reached on February 27, 2018. On May 31, 2018, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services increased the cap by 15,000 additional visas. The application period was May 31 to September 30, 2018, but the cap was reached by June 6, 2018.

Employers applying to the program need to consider both the application processing time and that the cap may be reached early in the petition cycle. On average, an application decision takes 46 days.

Competition on the number of people an industry can employ through the H-2B program can affect patterns of use in the H-2B program. For the Louisiana seafood processing industry, the past years have had an increase in the number of H-2B workers. On average, Louisiana seafood processors employed about 1,100 workers each year from 2008 to 2017, with the number of processing facilities fluctuating over the years (Figure 1). In 2008, 31 facilities employed 1,627 workers. In 2017, 45 facilities employed 1,595 H-2B workers. Data for 2018 show 41 operations employing 1,630 workers. The most H-2B workers were reported in 2017 with the fewest in 2013. An H-2B worker is attached to a contract and can stay for the period authorized on the temporary labor certification. For the Louisiana seafood processing industry, the average contract period is seven months.

The main job titles in Louisiana include crawfish, crab and alligator processors; peelers; fish cutters and trimmers; deckhands; and oyster shuckers. The basic wage rate offered to workers is based on the job attributes and the prevailing wage as well as the hourly wage, usual benefits and overtime offered to the majority of workers within a particular area as established by the Department of Labor. For example, the basic wage averaged $7.21 per hour in FY 2008, $9.91 per hour in FY 2017 and $9.50 per hour in FY 2018 (Figure 2). The average offered wage is above minimum wage rates, which signals the need to fill these positions as well as the labor intensity of the seafood processing industry.

Maria Bampasidou is an assistant professor and Mohammad Rajib Hasan is a former graduate student in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness.

(This article appears in the fall 2018 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

Charts-01-01.jpg thumbnail

Figure 1. Number of H-2B visa workers certified and employed by Louisiana seafood processors during 2008-2018. Source: Annual administrative data from employers’ H-2B applications (reported in ETA Form 1942)

Charts-021.jpg thumbnail

Figure 2. Average wage rate offer by the Louisiana seafood processors during the period 2008-2018. Source: Annual administrative data from employers’ H-2B applications (reported in ETA Form 1942)

12/14/2018 2:42:32 PM
Rate This Article:

Have a question or comment about the information on this page?

Innovate . Educate . Improve Lives

The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture