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; and the backbone of our tourist-based communities, ski resorts, retailers, and hotels and restaurants. Ski resorts and hospitality businesses need this workforce as part of the seasonal team, to help run their operations efficiently and work with foreign guests.
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.
The suspension of visas currently runs through December 31, 2020, and unless this ruling isn't changed, our industry will not be able to hire foreign workers before the important Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
These jobs are being offered to US workers but still aren't being filled. 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.
The H-2B visa program, specifically, requires businesses to prove first that they sought out and offered positions to American workers first but were unsuccessful in filling them. Ski resorts have had an increasingly difficult time filling these seasonal positions, due in large part to their remote locations—far away from metropolitan areas and centers of commerce—in addition to a lack of available and affordable housing in these areas.
In addition, 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. 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 and offered to US workers but they’re still not being filled due to the remote locations. There simply aren’t enough bodies in these remote towns to fully staff seasonal positions like lift operators, food and beverage, ski instructors, and housekeeping. Additionally, they're often temporary nature of such jobs, and the very high cost and difficulty of finding housing are other factors that weigh into the difficulty of filling these positions.
Our industry depends on our foreign visa workforce. We need to protect our ability to hire these important workers.