Last week, the Trump Administration temporarily suspended new foreign worker visas until December 31, 2020. The visas included are L-1 visas for intracompany transfers, H-1Bs for workers in high-tech occupations as well as the H-4 visa for spouses, as well as H-2Bs for temporary non-agricultural workers and most J-1 visas for exchange visitors—which many ski areas and related businesses utilize.
The order restricts the ability of American companies with global operations and international companies with U.S. branches to transfer foreign executives and other employees to the United States for months or years-long stints. And it blocks the spouses of foreigners who are employed at companies in the United States.
Experts say that up to 525,000 foreign workers could be kept out of the United States this year.
Given the impacts that the US/China tariffs have had on our industry, and the unexpected shutdown caused by the pandemic, this announcement can’t come at a worse time for our industry that depends on a seasonal workforce; the backbone of our tourist-based communities, ski resorts, retailers, and hotels and restaurants. Colorado, for example, has the third-highest number of H-2B worker visa applications in 2018 – a testament to the reliance on a foreign, seasonal workforce in Colorado’s winter tourism industry, given the rural, remote location of resort communities.
Aside from playing election-year politics, the Administration’s stated rationale behind the suspension is to open up these jobs to US workers as a result of the pandemic. However, the facts tell a different story: according to NSAA, last year 51% of the ski resorts could not fill all of their positions and the average number of unfilled jobs at ski resorts was 44—and a much higher number of unfilled positions for larger, destination resorts.
Secondly, these jobs aren’t displacing US workers. College students aren’t typically interested in filling low-skill seasonal positions and aren’t available during the winter months when the ski industry needs them most. Furthermore, while the pandemic has resulted in widespread job losses this year, the fact is that those laid off workers aren’t packing up and moving to mountain towns. The jobs are available to US workers but they’re still not being filled—due to location, their often temporary nature of such jobs, and the very high cost and difficulty of finding housing.
“Employers are required to pay J-1 visa students the same rate of pay as American workers in similar positions. American seasonal businesses would certainly opt to hire Americans first if they were available, but in rural communities where ski areas are located, they are unavailable,” said NSAA.
Seasonal foreign workers are the drivers of economic growth in our tourist-driven communities. They enable our ski resorts to open fully—lift operators, instructors, food and beverage, housekeeping, snowmakers—and are also invaluable to our ski resorts, specialty retail shops, and hospitality industry, not to mention the small businesses throughout ski country.
At this point, we have a tight window to protect our seasonal workforce and their ability to apply for visas. On a call organized by NSAA earlier today, the discussion stressed the need for all of us to elevate our business voices to Congress. We need to raise the profile of this issue and be very strategic about accessing the right people, with our very compelling message. “We have tremendous power, and an incredibly strong economic argument to protect our rural communities where ski areas are located,” said NSAA’s Dave Byrd.
But we need to do this quickly to repeal—more likely, modify—Trump’s proclamation, including asking the administration to allow visas to be approved and workers hired with enough lead time before our winter season begins. We are working alongside NSAA to have those discussions and will engage our members in this challenge at the state and federal level. Our business members must weigh in—calling your Congressman or woman, senator, or local/state Chamber of Commerce is critical.
COVID-19 will also present hiring challenges and despite so many unknowns, we recognize that the upcoming season may look very different in regards to workers being able to travel here and the number of employees needed to fill what could be a limited season. We’re staying on the pulse of this evolving situation and will be in touch as we move into the fall season.
For more information, and for opportunities on how to engage Congress, please contact:
SIA: Chris Steinkamp – [email protected]
NSAA: David Byrd – [email protected]