Economics

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Government Increases Number of Foreign Visa Workers

27 Jun, 2018

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
What Does it Mean for Venues Ready to Bring Workers Over from Puerto Rico?

A lot of hospitality businesses, who had previously been faced with the option of hiring workers from Puerto Rico to fill housekeeping, sports venue labor and hospitality jobs, recently got a reprieve from the government.

According to information published in the Boston Globe, the Department of Homeland Security said it will grant an additional 15,000 visas for foreign workers this year, a small reprieve for seasonal employers facing a labor shortage as the summer tourist season kicks off.

Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen raised the cap on H-2B visas after determining there were not enough qualified US workers to meet the needs of American employers, the department said. The same situation occurred last year, although Homeland Security did not grant extra visas until July.

“The limitations on H-2B visas were originally meant to protect American workers, but when we enter a situation where the program unintentionally harms American businesses it needs to be reformed,” Nielsen said in a statement.”

The concept of protecting American jobs is unfortunately meaningless when it comes to the types of jobs filled by H-2B workers. Venue operators say that much manual labor is involved for many of the jobs in question, and U.S. residents – including high school and college students – don’t want to do perform those tasks.

Among the sports venues that rely heavily on H-2B to fill vacancies are golf courses and equestrian facilities, including rodeo grounds, race tracks and riding centers – although many other facilities use these workers as well, as does the hospitality industry as a whole.

In order to use H-2B, employers must establish that there are not enough U.S. workers who are able, willing and qualified to do the temporary work and that wages will not be adversely affected by hiring a foreign worker.

So far, that hasn’t been an issue for the American businesses that rely on these workers. Horse racing officials, for example, told the Courier-Journal in Louisville that it’s difficult to find U.S. workers who want to perform the difficult and dirty work of caring for horses. Mucking out stalls and removing manure are not attractive tasks – and many younger Americans consider such work beneath them, particularly after or during the time they are receiving an education.

“People show up on Day One and they never come back. They don’t want to shovel horse manure. They don’t want to do the hard, heavy labor. ... Maybe they last a week, at most,” L.J. D’Arrigo , an immigration attorney who represents trainer Todd Pletcher, told a reporter.

Jobs in areas such as cooking and serving concessions at sports parks, or serving as housekeeping or maintenance staff in hotels, are similarly unappealing to young people.

The Boston Globe article further noted,

The visas, for temporary nonagricultural workers, are in addition to the 66,000 visas already issued this year, half of which are designated for the summer season. On Jan. 1, the first day requests could be submitted for those 33,000 slots, the Department of Labor received applications for more than 81,000 H-2B positions — three times the number received on that day the year before. As a result, Citizenship and Immigration Services said it had enough petitions to meet the cap.

The huge increase in demand for foreign workers additionally has been fueled by a low national unemployment rate. The labor crunch had previously encouraged employers to seek out and recruit workers from Puerto Rico over the past few months, many of whom lost their jobs following Hurricane Maria and don’t need visas to work in the United States. Some traveled to the island to recruit workers but came back largely empty-handed, while others forked over up to $2,000 per worker to recruiters to find Puerto Rican employees.

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