I’m a co-founder of Luke’s Lobster. Maine’s leaders at every level of government – local, state, and federal – need to act to address our dire labor shortage. If they don’t, businesses like mine will continue to suffer, and so will our customers.

Our company touches every part of the lobster supply chain. It takes immense effort and in-person labor to accomplish all that goes into lobster processing. Our facility in Saco needs more than 150 people, hands on, every day. In the last two years, we have not reached even 75 percent of our full production capacity, due entirely to staffing shortages.

That’s 10,000 fewer pounds of lobster per day that we have the capacity to process, that gets processed in Canada instead and then reimported back to the United States with a “Product of Canada” label. Canada benefits economically and their companies are growing. Meanwhile, my company’s growth is stymied.

Likewise, our restaurant in Portland has been chronically understaffed. We’ve consistently had lines of customers wanting to eat, but we needed to make them wait or walk away because we didn’t have staff to serve them. As a certified B Corp, we provide a good workplace, compensation, and more, but there aren’t enough people to take the jobs.

Or, more accurately, there are plenty of people to take the jobs, but they aren’t allowed to work. Hundreds of asylum seekers in Portland are waiting more than a year for their first work permits due to outdated federal immigration laws and processing delays. These folks want nothing more than to contribute an honest day’s work.  We know that’s true because to the extent we are processing lobster, it’s thanks to our New Mainer employees who’ve made it through the nightmarish work authorization process. They are hardworking, skilled, and eager to be a part of the American Dream.

More asylum seekers like them are staying just down the road in temporary housing. They are desperate to work and Maine businesses in virtually every sector are desperate to hire them.


I hear about asylum seekers who could have filled jobs in Maine, but instead have headed to Canada, where the legal system quickly gives them a work permit to support themselves while they apply for asylum.  Just as with lobster processing, Canada is beating us in the competition for talent by offering commonsense immigration policies.

Asylum seekers are coming to Maine every day. We need them as much as they need us. Every level of government needs to step up.  State government needs to be coordinating services and housing.  Municipalities like Portland are doing their best to help these families get settled but they simply can’t do it alone. The Biden administration needs to give every asylum seeker allowed to enter because they’ve shown legitimate fears for their safety a year’s parole (a status letting non-citizens temporarily live in the United States without fear of deportation) with simultaneously issued work authorization, so they’re eligible to work from day one while they go through the lengthy process of preparing their asylum applications.

And Congress needs to act. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Rep.t Chellie Pingree introduced the Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act to shrink the time asylum seekers’ are ineligible for a work permit after submitting their asylum applications from six months to one.  Congress should pass it, immediately.

We are not talking about people who have entered our country illegally. We are talking about asylum seekers who came to our border to ask for protection after fleeing violence and persecution in their countries of origin. Our priority should be to let them work as soon as possible, so they can have the dignity of supporting themselves and can contribute to the state they want to call home.

This is a moral issue. But it is also an issue of getting our businesses fully operational.  We aren’t talking about taking jobs from U.S. citizens. We’re talking about filling gaping unfilled holes in our workforce that damage businesses, reduce our community tax base, and drive up everyone’s cost to feed their families.

Our economy depends on making the right decisions to build a strong workforce. This should be an easy call.

— Special to the Press Herald

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