NEW ORLEANS, May 3 — It is nearing peak harvesting season for Louisiana crawfish, but a shortage of migrants to peel them is hurting the industry, largely because of a fight over foreign guest workers that has stirred fears Chinese imports will gain ground.
The worker shortfall, which Louisiana officials estimate will cut its frozen crawfish output by more than half, at a cost of up to US$50 million (RM179m), is largely the result of a long conflict over rules and wages for seasonal laborers under the H-2B visa programme.
Each year, the US lets in up to 66,000 workers under the H-2B programme, many from Mexico, for jobs ranging from hotel maid to landscaper.
Employers have to prove to the Labour Department that their wages are fair and that workers will not disadvantage American job-seekers before visas are granted by the Department of Homeland Security. The workers must return home after their fixed-term jobs end.
Critics of Louisiana’s crawfish processors, and of businesses relying on H-2B labourers generally, say many exploit a largely powerless migrant workforce, and that legal and legislative challenges to Obama administration efforts to make the programme more worker-friendly have slowed the application process.
“This is largely a crisis they’ve brought on themselves,” said Jacob Horwitz, a labour organiser with the New Orleans-based National Guestworker Alliance.