While safety issues facing sports venues are well-known and have received plenty of coverage, a separate problem entirely is lurking in the background and has the power to cause significant upheaval in the industry.
According to an article in USA TODAY, the H-2B visa program, which allows employers to bring foreign nationals to the U.S. to fill temporary, non-agricultural jobs, is surprisingly important to owners of sports venues.
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 has not been a problem, according to venue operators, who 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.
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 racehorses.
“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 the Courier-Journal.
The concern with H-2B at present is an aspect known as the returning worker exemption, which allows those returning to work in the U.S. within the past three years of receiving a H-2B visa to not count against the annual cap. The annual cap is set at 66,000 workers, and it was met on March 13.
The returning worker program expired in September, leaving venue owners to wonder if there will be enough workers to perform maintenance duties in time for the events they will be hosting.
“We want to see this at a level that it’s been at in the past so that these workers can return who have been coming to this country,” Steve Mona, CEO of World Golf Foundation and administrator of We Are Golf, told USA TODAY. And he noted the use of H-2B workers is more prevalent than event owners might realize.
“It’s national. You’d be surprised; a lot are in the southern states, but even in the North and Midwest, you’ll see it as well,” he said. “You’ll see it will run in families sometimes, where members of certain families will come on an annual basis to work at golf courses principally during the summer months and then return home.”
Even the Trump administration was entangled in the debate when it came to light that prior to his presidency, then-resort owner Donald Trump hired 69 H-2B workers at the Mar-a-Lago Club. This took place during the 2015-16 high season, the Palm Beach Post reported.