Resort To Hire Fewer Foreign Workers—More U.S. Citizens Willing To Fill Service Jobs

Resort to hire fewer foreign workers
More U.S. citizens willing to fill service jobs

By Trevon Milliard
The Idaho Mountain Express (Ketchum, ID), October 2, 2009

With Americans clamoring for work, Sun Valley Co. will hire fewer foreign workers this winter.

Matt Parke, Sun Valley Co. personnel manager, said that in past winters the resort has hired 220 foreign workers under the H-2B visa program. He said that this winter he expects only 70 or so, with about 50 more student-visa workers.

Under the H-2B visa program, established in 1990, employers are only allowed to hire visa-carrying foreign workers for non-agricultural, temporary jobs. Many resorts have relied on these visa workers during winter seasons, but they must show that U.S. workers aren't available for the labor.

Parke said Sun Valley Co. has always followed the Americans-come-first mandate, but citizen interest never was much of an issue.

This year, U.S. citizens are willing to work in the kitchens, restaurants and hotels where foreignersmostly from South Americafilled the positions in previous years, he said.

'People who haven't waited tables for years have applied,' Parke said.

Parke said he's reading applications from Americans of all ages who've been laid off, seen their business fail or just need the cash.

'The skill set of applicants is high,' he said, and added that he has a large pool to choose from.

Sun Valley Co. employs about 1,700 people in the peak of the winter season.

Many resorts and other employers are cutting back on their H-2B hires, evidenced by the fact that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has seen far fewer H-2B visa requests this winter. The federal government has a 66,000 cap on H-2B visas issued every fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. Half those must be issued to foreigners starting work in the first six months of the fiscal yearbefore March 31.

Ski resort workers usually start during that time, and in past years have piled up visa requests to the 33,000 limit long before the deadline. Last year, all 33,000 visas were taken by July 29, the earliest the quota has been met since the H-2B program began in 1990.

That's not the case this year. Citizen and Immigration Services reported only 16,550 H-2B visas approved by Sept. 25, when the numbers were last tabulated.

The State Department also said it received far fewer requests than expected for the previous six-month period that visa recipients would have to begin working, which ended Sept. 30. In January, Citizenship and Immigration Services reported that it had already approved enough H-2B petitions to meet the annual cap of 66,000 for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30. However, in August, CIS retracted that claim and said it was more than 25,000 visas short. Visa filing was then reopened.

It's difficult to tell if the nationwide reduction in H-2B visas has to do with unemployed American workers in need of temporary jobs, but other resorts are cutting back on their foreign employees to hire domestically.

Aspen Skiing Co. planned on cutting the number of foreign ski and snowboard instructors hired this winter to 57 from 109 last season as a response to the recession, according to company spokesman Jeff Hanle. The company wanted to hire more American instructors in the wake of high unemployment, Hanle said.

He said the company later decided to not hire a single H-2B visa worker after the U.S. Department of Labor ruled that employers must reimburse them for travel costs.

Parke said the new rule hasn't affected Sun Valley Co., which has often covered foreign workers' travel expenses and visa processing fees. But the company has hired fewer workers altogether because it's doing less business, he said.

EDITORS NOTE: For the latest CIS analysis of the labor market, visit: