Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Alaska Processors Still Uncertain About J-1 Work Visa Program

With hiring underway for summer seafood processing jobs, the processors are waiting to hear the State Department’s decision on an interim final rule to exclude seafood processing from a summer work visa program that fills many jobs in Alaska.

Alaska’s congressional delegation has asked the federal Office of Management and Budget to reject the proposal for interim final rulemaking which excludes seafood processing facilities from the J-1 Visa Summer Work Travel program. There’s no word yet, however, on what OMB’s decision will be.

Such an exclusion would likely have a more severe impact on smaller processing firms, said Joe Plesha, legal counsel for Trident Seafoods. Plesha said such an exclusion would likely have a more severe impact on smaller processing firms.

Leader Creek Fisheries is proceeding under the assumption that the J-1 students will be denied reentry into the program and is advertising on the Internet and elsewhere for workers, according to spokesman Norm Van Vactor.

Copper River Seafoods also is not relying on the J-1 program.

"Copper River Seafoods has and continues to recruit for a total of 300 seasonal seafood processors, posted on the state of Alaska ALEXsys system,” said Robin Richardson, chief business development officer for CRS.

“To date, 175 have been successfully recruited,” she said. “While CRS has successfully used the Travel and Cultural Exchange Program (J1) for the past 10 years, it has been anticipated that this would not be a long-term solution. As a result of the concerns by the US State Department, it was apparent that it would not be prudent to depend on the program for summer 2012.
“Therefore, CRS has adopted the US Department of Labor, Certified Apprenticeship model to fortify a year-round, Alaska-based, skilled workforce to support an increasingly automated manufacturing process.”

The bottom line, Richardson added, is that CRS has always clearly understood that this (J-1) was not a work permit visa. It was a travel/cultural exchange program for our college juniors and seniors that came to visit and work. The company’s experience with students from the Czech Republic in particular has been outstanding, she said.

Alaska’s congressional delegation meanwhile is trying to keep the program intact for processors who do depend on it. They sent a letter to Jeffrey Zients, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, in early March asking that the proposal be rejected and that his department be directed to proceed with a formal process of proposed rulemaking which includes notice and comments from the affected seafood sector and coastal communities hosting students under the program.

“The use of interim final rule making to exclude seafood processing facilities from the J-1 program is not appropriate,” they said.

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