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Limited Supply of H2-B Visas Force Resorts on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
 Scramble to Patch Together a Full Staff for the Summer

By Jim Faber, The Island Packet, Hilton Head Island, S.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Mar. 11, 2008--A predicted staffing crisis at resorts on Hilton Head Island hasn't been as difficult to overcome as operators initially feared even though a key pipeline for bringing in seasonal workers wasn't renewed by Congress.

Roughly 600 guest workers from overseas come to the island each spring as part of the H2-B visa program.

National demand for such workers is far beyond the 66,000 visas issued each year.

In 2005 and 2006, Congress passed a provision that didn't count workers who had previously come to the U.S. on an H2-B visa against the cap. That provision wasn't passed in 2007, and it has left resorts in the area scrambling for staff.

The Daufuskie Island Resort and Breathe Spa couldn't bring back any of the 90 workers it wanted, and failed to get visas for 100 more workers the resort was seeking, said John Russell, vice president and managing director of West Paces Hotel Group, which manages the resort.

"There are 90 employees, who wanted to come back up, in Jamaica right now sitting on their hands," Russell said. "And we're here wondering what we're going to do about it."

The Daufuskie resort is rushing to fill those spots with workers coming over on student work visas and by trying to lure those with H2-B visas already in the country for the winter ski season.

It has also tried to bring in more local workers. But a recent recruitment effort attracted only 25 applicants, only one of which was hired. He left after one day on the job, said Ned Webster, resort director of human  resources.

Webster and Russell were confident they'd be able to patch together a full staff this summer and not have to cut services.

But the new batch of employees would require more training than returning workers. And with the shorter length of the student work visa, the resort could go through two or three sets of seasonal employees this summer, Russell said.

Even those resorts that did snag some of the limited supply of H2-B visas face challenges.

The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa received 85 visas, said Chris Scheriff, director of human
resources. Because of deadlines in the process, those workers will arrive April 1, instead of in mid-February, when the resort really needed them to start.

Year-round staff have been working overtime since February, and students from South America on summer vacation have filled some of the gaps, Scheriff said.

Those students, however, leave this week, creating a three-week gap  before the H2-B workers arrive, she said.

Diana Brown, director of human resources at the Hilton Oceanfront Resort, was facing the same problems. That resort got 80 visas, but those workers won't arrive until April.

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To see more of The Island Packet, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.islandpacket.com.

Copyright (c) 2008, The Island Packet, Hilton Head Island, S.C.

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