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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Lisa Murkowski today successfully added a key amendment to the 2015 State and Foreign Operations spending bill to restore the J-1 Visa program through Fiscal Year 2015 and help Alaska’s seafood processors statewide hire needed staff – after the State Department had suspended visas due to concerns rising from Lower 48 activities. The J-1 program is an important policy that allows processing companies to recruit staff from outside the United States when their rural location and seasonal workload makes hiring locally or domestically difficult. Murkowski also was able to allocate vital funds for the State Department to begin adding Arctic-focused personnel as the nation ramps up its efforts and leadership in the region prior to taking Chair of the Arctic Council.
“Alaska’s seafood processors have been having difficulty hiring the workers they need during peak summer seasons, since the J-1 program was shut down two years ago,” 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 would like to thank my committee colleagues for understanding the need to continue this program for the next year, and Senator Begich for joining me in this effort.”
Murkowski also inserted language into the funding bill that will provide additional funds to increase the State Department staff in advance of the United States becoming the Chair of the Arctic Council next year. 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 Arctic Nation status more seriously.
J-1 Visa Amendment:
“the Secretary of State shall permit participants in the Summer Work Travel program who are admitted under section 101(a)(15)(J) of the Immigration and Naturalization Act (8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(15)(J)) to be employed in seafood processing positions until September 30, 2015, if such placements comply with all requirements of such program:”
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 United States will assume the Chair of the Arctic Council in May 2015. The Committee recommends $2,000,000 for preparation and support for 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 encourages the Department of State to establish the position of U.S. Ambassador to the Arctic in order to enhance engagement with other Arctic nations.
The Committee strongly supports the participation of American indigenous communities in the Arctic Council, and section 7034(t) of this act provides up to $500,000 for grants to support the application of science and technology to foreign policy issues in the Arctic region, including to facilitate the participation of indigenous communities in the Council.”
The bill passed out of the Committee today and now heads to the U.S. Senate floor for a vote.