Economics

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Displaced Puerto Rican Workers Helping Fill Positions in Hospitality, Sports Venues

13 Jun, 2018

By: Michael Popke

As Puerto Rico (very) slowly rebuilds after Hurricane Maria, many displaced island residents are set to lose their Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance funding on June 30. Others are already seeking employment on the mainland at hotels and resorts, golf courses, tourist attractions and equestrian facilities such as rodeo grounds and racetracks.

Businesses in those sectors often rely on temporary immigrant laborers who arrive in the United States under the H-2B visa program. (Many of these jobs include heavy manual work and employers have long relied on the visa workers because the jobs do not appeal to American teenagers or college students.) With a shortage of H-2B workers, though, employers are welcoming Puerto Ricans with open arms.

“For employers in Branson, Missouri — a tourist destination in a county with a 3.8% jobless rate—Puerto Ricans present an appealing labor source because, as U.S. citizens, they don’t need work visas that are in short supply,” The Wall Street Journal reports. “Last year, even before the hurricane, recruiters traveled to the island several times searching for hospitality workers, industrial welders and nurses, among other occupations. Branson-area businesses hired more than 200 Puerto Ricans.”

With no travel restrictions facing Puerto Rico residents, resort owners like Bob Smith — who runs Sebasco Harbor Resort in Phippsburg, Maine — are hoping to hire even more Puerto Ricans this summer than he did last year to help on the golf course and in other areas of the property.  

Louis Morales, 50, is one of Smith’s employees, and he makes double the salary he would back home in Comerio, Puerto Rico. "A lot of people lost their houses, their jobs, everything. It's not the same now," Morales, a maintenance man at Sebasco last year who has recruited more Comerio residents to join him at the resort this year, told the Associated Press.

Morales isn’t alone. Luis Arroyo, whose home was destroyed by Hurricane Maria, was among the thousands of displaced Puerto Ricans who attended a job fair in Osceola County, Fla., late last year. “I hope to find a job, like at Disney or in landscaping or anywhere,” Arroyo told WFTV.com. “I just want to get a job. I’m staying here. This is my long term, and I want to move here. I want to build a house.” 

"It’s a good chance for people," Fanny Morales, assistant regional human resources director for HMSHost, the world's largest provider of food and beverage services for travelers, told USNews.com. "They already know people who are leaving [the island] anyway. They're now given the opportunity to leave with a job."

Golf courses, in particular, are in need of seasonal staff. “The golf industry has experienced a slow, steady contraction over the past decade, with more courses closing than opening each year,” reports Golfweek.com. “But the demand for temporary workers is as strong as ever.”

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