Murkowski Extends J-1 Visa Program, Supports Alaska’s Seafood Industry

Senator Also Works to Enhance, Improve the Mission of the State Department’s Arctic Team

Senator Lisa Murkowski today successfully secured language in the 2016 State and Foreign Operations spending bill that extends the J-1 Visa program through the next fiscal year to help Alaska’s seafood processors statewide hire needed staff.  Murkowski also made sure that Arctic matters were given more attention and resources, while encouraging the United States to keep the interests and views of indigenous peoples in mind while forming policy.

The J-1 Visa program is an important policy for many Alaska seafood processors who struggle to fill large numbers of seasonal jobs locally, in-state, or domestically due to a lack of applicants and are forced to hire staff from outside the United States through a temporary education visa program.

“Alaska’s seafood processors consistently struggle to hire the workers they need during peak summer seasons, and the J-1 visa program offers an avenue to responsibly staff them when the local workforce just isn’t there,” said Murkowski.  “Seafood processors from Naknek to Kodiak to Ketchikan rely on this program when they cannot hire Alaskans or workers from the Lower 48, so I commend my committee colleagues – whether they share the coastal and seasonal needs we face or not – for understanding the need to continue this program.

On the Arctic front, Murkowski inserted language to promote Arctic awareness within the State Department and provide additional funds to increase the State Department staff as America chairs the Arctic Council right now.  The Senator is the leading voice in Congress in advocating for greater awareness and investment in America’s Arctic opportunities, urging the administration to take our role as an Arctic Nation more seriously – and a strong proponent of incorporating Alaska Natives’ viewpoints and priorities into the nation’s Arctic agenda.

J-1 Visa Seafood Processors Provision:

“A provision under this heading in this act permits participants in the Summer Work Travel program to be employed in seafood processing positions until September 30, 2016, if such placements comply with all requirements of the program.  As with other provisions, Summer Work Travel sponsors shall, upon request, provide evidence to the Department of State that such requirements are being met for seafood processing positions and failure to provide such evidence will justify a compliance review of the sponsor.”

Arctic Priority Language:

“The Arctic – The Committee recognizes the strategic importance of the Arctic region to the long-term economic and national security interests of the United States and notes that the U.S. assumed the Chair of the Arctic Council in April 2015.  The Committee recommends that funding made available to the Office of Oceans and Polar Affairs be used to support the chairmanship of the Arctic Council, and encourages the Department of State to increase the number of personnel assigned to Arctic Council issues. 

The Committee also supports the participation of American indigenous communities in the Arctic Council, and section 7034(d)(3) of the act continues authority to use up to $500K for grants to support the application of science and technology to foreign policy issues in the Arctic region.    

The bill passed out of the Committee today and now heads to the U.S. Senate floor for a vote.