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Seasonal Resort Staffing:

H-2B or Not to Be, That Is the Question!


by Allan Wich, August 2010

What will be the fate of the resort community(s) across the country in their ability to uphold the level or offerings and ‘experience’ their customers are accustomed to receiving if there is fluctuations in the amount of available service staff to rollout those business plans?

Consistency of ones brand seems to be the best testament for maintaining and increasing shareholder value; so how do we capture, retain and secure that?

We have a habit in this country of protecting that which we treasure, be their safety nets physical or of legislative prowess, either way we nurture and protect like a lion of its cub.  In the hospitality industry, along with our Trademarks, Copyrights and intellectual properties, we corral all of our tools in hopes of producing and maintaining a marketable experience to our guests; and our services, the vehicle we use to rollout those offerings, reside towards the top of the business plan.  Services are by nature administered eyeball to eyeball and with an outstretched hand; if that hand is either untenured or worse yet non- existent, then there is a likely hood that the unique and identifiable ‘experience’, that which becomes the resorts identifiable brand, may loose its strength in the industry and may find an approaching end to its longevity. 

So back to my earlier question, how do we go about securing the needed work force within the constraints of the legislative body, or can we?

First let’s look at the problem; successfully filling the need for seasonal workforce; here is where Bill H-2B deploys its strength.  Seasonal workloads at many resorts are accommodated using seasonal immigrant workforces.  The H-2B non agricultural temporary working visa is a nonimmigrant visa which allows foreign nationals to enter the U.S. in order to engage in non agricultural employment of a temporary nature of up to one year.  Temporary work in the H-2B might include: (1) Recurring seasonal need; (2) Intermittent need; (3) Peak load need; (4) One time occurrences.  Qualifying positions might include travel agents, restaurant workers, resort workers, amusement park workers and landscape workers, to name a few.  The H-2B visa can only be obtained after an employer demonstrates that U.S. workers are unavailable to do the work and that wages and working conditions meet regional standards.

Many resorts go to great extents to keep U.S. jobs filled by U.S. residents by attending job fairs, visiting colleges, placing hotels job application on-line, recruiting at culinary institutes and advertising in magazines as well as using work force head hunters, but many times their efforts and the amount of captured employees fall short of their needs and obligations, hence, many hotels and restaurants employ foreign workers to meet the surge in tourist traffic in peak seasons.

So why is there such a shortage in the available U.S. workforce? Or is there?  Based upon statistics from the U.S. Department of labor Statistics in 2006, there was an available labor force of approximately 151.4 million (employed and unemployed); based upon an 8 year average national unemployment rate of 4.41% there were some 6.6 million Americans available for work (not including reductions in workforce due to illness, injury or other ineligibility conditions.)  Even if we cut that number in half we still have over 3 million able bodied Americans to fill positions.  Yes, they need to meet basic industry benchmarks, they may need to have specific training, but then again so would a foreign national.

So, if we have the numbers and we are still not fulfilling the positions then I am led to only one conclusion, and that is we must not want them.  The reason(s) may be numerous but I do know that we are one of the few countries that have 3rd and 4th generation welfare recipients! Yes, we need to make sure that these jobs are offered to Americans first at each season and also need to make sure that prevailing wages are being paid to foreign nationals so as not to lower wage scales in America. Maybe that’s another discussion for yet another day.  If the above be the case, right or wrong, then let’s give the positions to those that will commit, those that will travel from another country to partake in what is available and to capture what might be personally possible; after all, we are the land of opportunity are we not?  Their commitment in effort and understanding of resort best practices and customer services, from year to year, helps to insure brand security, not to mention a reduced amount of needed training.  

There are nationally 66,000 visa allotments offered every year, split, with equal amounts offered in the summer and winter.  There was an exemption in place which allowed returning workers to be exempt from being tallied with new work visa recipients, suggestively increasing in tandem, the overall quantity of foreign national positions needed to meet current and growing demands, however; the life expectancy of that exemption has been fulfilled and no longer exists.

Legislative Bill S. 352, the Save our Small and Seasonal Business act of 2005, has been introduced by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md) and Senator Judd Gregg (R-N.H.).  The bill passed in October of 07’ as part of a larger bill.  However, this bill is only a temporary fix that literally extends the status quo for only a year up through September 30th, 2008.

This bill does not increase the H-2B visa cap of 66,000 but it does effectively increase the amount of available visa seasonal workers by exempting from the cap guest workers whom have worked in the U.S. previously under the H-2B visa program in any of the past 3 years and who are returning to work for the same employer.

So, what can we as individuals do, well plenty; call or write your congressman and or Senator and urge them to be in support of this Bill S. 352 and to be proactive in working with the hospitality industry on finding and implementing a fair, timely and permanent answer to this challenge.  As we become more and more a transient society and want to experience other lifestyles and geographical experiences around this ever shrinking globe, we will probably find ourselves developing an increasing number of destination locations to fulfill our hospitality mindset; this will in turn put added burden on the vehicles that provide service support.  A voice alone gets lost in a quiet breeze, but when combined with others, the decibels can awaken even the largest of giants.

Without permanent resolution and protection for those increasing and needed seasonal employment positions, we might find new movement in our most treasured hospitality ‘experiences’, that of non-solicited Brand Drift. 


John J Hogan, Ph.D. CHA CHE  MHS
Mobile   602-799-5375

Also See: The H-2B Workforce Coalition Says Comprehensive Immigration Reform Must Include Relief for Seasonal Employers / December 2009

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