One-time H-2B visa expansion may be too little, too late

H-2B visa expansion

BROWNSVILLE, Texas -- The Department of Homeland Security announced Monday it is raising the number of H-2B visas this year -- from 66,000 to 81,000. H-2B visas are temporary visas for foreigners to come to the U.S. to do seasonal, non-agricultural work. 

But the one-time visa expansion may be too little, too late.

On the Texas Gulf Coast, shrimp season began with the traditional "blessing of the fleet." This year's answered prayer would be hundreds of needed deckhands.

"We're following the law, we're not breaking the law, and it's very frustrating," Carlton Reyes says.

Carlton Reyes CBS News

Reyes owns seven shrimp boats in Brownsville, Texas. Since 1987, he has relied on Mexican deckhands -- two per boat -- who come here on H-2B visas. He applied for 14 of them this year. None have been approved.

"It's going to be a tremendous impact on the shrimp season -- and on the economy -- if we can't get shrimp that's out there to harvest because we're short on labor and help," Reyes says.

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As a group, Texas shrimp boat companies applied for roughly 500 H-2B visas. Not one was granted. The Texas Shrimp Association estimates the loss will be $1 million a day.

Anthony Delois owns two hotels in Ogunquit, Maine. He relies on seasonal foreign labor.

"For this year, we applied for 22 visas between the two properties. Of those 22, we have received six employees and those were all in country beforehand," Delois says.

Reyes has the same struggle. When asked if there's anything to the idea that these visa workers are taking jobs from Americans, he says, "Not at all, not at all."

"Americans don't want this type of work," he says.

Even if the worker visas were approved today, by the time they were processed, the main Texas shrimp season would be almost over.  

A worker on a shrimp boat in Brownsville, Texas. CBS News
  • Mark Strassmann
    Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001 and is based in the Atlanta bureau.