“There is a renewed sense of urgency about this,” said Neil Bradley, executive vice president and director of policy and head of strategic advocacy at the American Chamber of Commerce. “It was a problem before the pandemic. Now it’s a crisis as we are coming out of the pandemic.”
Winter-oriented resorts have taken notice.
In recent weeks, Sugarbush announced a minimum wage increase and an expansion of benefits to attract American workers. Even so, the resort will still have to replenish its workforce with people from abroad, a process bogged down by work backlogs due to the coronavirus pandemic and growing demand.
John Bleh, director of communications and public relations at Sugarbush, said: “One of the difficulties right now is that this whole process is taking a bit longer because of the closure of embassies or limited business hours. limited, limited staff”. “This whole process has been backed up.”
The process for employers to obtain visas to bring in workers from abroad is long, cumbersome and requires extensive planning. First, there is a limited number of temporary work visas that are split between seasons – spring and summer, and fall and winter – and it can be expensive.
The arduous process, coupled with the growing demand for foreign workers, is posing a challenge for employers looking to strengthen their workforce.
Charles Kuck, an immigration attorney based in Atlanta, said: “Our immigration system is so outdated and unresponsive to the needs of the 21st century, it’s really damaging the economy. our country”. – work visa. “I think employers are realizing, ‘I’m not taking these people back.'”
Ski resorts were formerly dependent on foreign workers. In December 2019, a survey of 137 ski resorts found that nearly 52% of them employed some type of foreign worker, according to the National Association of Ski Areas. The most common types of visas are the J-1, for example, which offers short-term student visas, and the H-2B for temporary non-farm workers.
But this year, slow processing and possible vaccine requirements are making it more difficult to get that visa.
“It’s been a huge challenge for us, given the fluid nature of the Covid situation and the vaccine situation,” said Dave Byrd, director of risk and management for the National Association of Ski Areas. -ask for”.
Ski resorts have been trying to increase staff, Byrd added, but are facing obstacles, such as housing costs exacerbated by the pandemic, and rising demand for workers and wages.
The H-2B visa allows employers to bring foreign workers to the United States for temporary non-farm jobs, such as landscaping, hospitality, and other industries. Congress sets a limit on the number of visas allowed per fiscal year. Currently, that cap is at 66,000, with 33,000 for workers commencing work from October 1 to March 31, and 33,000 for those working from April 1 to September 30.
“It was a race for those 33,000 visas,” said Jeff Joseph, an immigration attorney based in Colorado.
“More employers are applying than before, and that’s directly related to unemployment. Where they could have found more workers in the past, there’s been a struggle,” he added, Note that applying for a visa is an extensive process and is not easy or straightforward. alternative to those looking for employees.
Acknowledging increased labor demand, the Department of Homeland Security announced in April that it would provide an additional 22,000 temporary non-farm work visas.
“The H-2B program is designed to help American employers fill temporary seasonal jobs while protecting the livelihoods of American workers,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement. at that moment. According to DHS, US businesses that rely on the program during the summer months express a need for more temporary workers.
That’s hope for Sugarbush, which is rolling out a series of deals of its own in preparation for the busy winter months to come.
“We were having a hard time recruiting, and we felt this was a good way to bring people into the workforce for us,” says Bleh.