Lack Of Worker Visas Could Cost Crawfish Processors Big Bucks
There’s concern that processors who sell pre-peeled crawfish meat won’t have enough foreign H-2B visa workers to peel all of the crawfish on the market. Only 33,000 visas are made available every six months, and Louisiana Farm Bureau public policy coordinator Brian Breaux says around 100,000 applicants generally pursue the economically vital manual laborers.
“You have basically less than a one out of three chance that your visa will be filled, so it is very hard to run a business when you can’t fill those job positions with local workers.”
A 2011 AgCenter report indicated Louisianans eat about 10 and a half pounds of crawfish every year.
Breaux says that means large amounts of the crawfish crop potentially could be thrown out, as there isn’t enough demand for non-peeled mudbugs. He says you have to peel them relatively shortly after harvest, because you can’t store non-peeled crawfish.
“If you don’t have people to peel the crawfish meat, and basically the peel grade crawfish becomes a deficit in the market, where you just can’t sell those sacks of crawfish.”
Louisiana farms about 130-150 million pounds of crawfish per year, over 90 percent of the national crop.
The cap on H-2B workers has been in place for years, so why is this now becoming such an issue? Experts say it’s because the low unemployment rate and improving economy means Louisianans are more interested in peeling crawfish recreationally than professionally. Breaux adds it’s also a generational issue.
“People that were working in those capacities, as those people age out, possibly the younger workers chose not to do that kind of work.”
The work is seasonal, and generally not high paying.