By John E. Dorer

More than three years after COVID-19 erupted around the globe, fortunately the disease is receding.

But the problems the pandemic caused persist.

More than half of Americans in a Gallup Poll in June said their lives are not yet back to “normal.” You can count many hotel operators among them.

Despite the gradual recovery from the havoc wreaked by the pandemic, the hospitality industry overall continues to struggle with a diminished workforce. Although a pickup from recent months was reflected in Labor Department data released this month — leisure and hospitality added 40,000 jobs — the industry remains 290,000 jobs below its pre-pandemic level.

Within the industry, hotels particularly still struggle mightily to recruit and retain employees. Openings across the nation number 100,000, the American Hotel & Lodging Association reports.

Eight out of 10 hoteliers say they are experiencing staffing shortages, according to an association survey this summer. A quarter of owners surveyed said the shortage is so severe it’s affecting their ability to operate.

This comes amid growing demand as vacations and company travel surge from the pandemic-induced standstill. The association projects room-night demand will surpass pre-pandemic levels with 1.3 billion this year.

The most severe pain point for hotels: housekeepers. The association survey found 40% of operators rank housekeeping as their top hiring need.

So, what is behind the persistent labor shortage?

Three key factors:

Aging population: A chief contributor to the labor shortage is America’s aging population.

For the first time in modern U.S. history, the workforce is shrinking — there are more people leaving the labor pool than there are workers entering it — marked in large part by baby boomer retirements. The pandemic accelerated this long-term trend.

And the outlook isn’t exactly promising.

Svenja Gudell, chief economist at Indeed, emphasizes that countries like the United States will continue to face worker shortages due to aging populations and other demographic shifts. Gudell says that without sustained immigration or efforts to attract workers from the sidelines of the labor force, companies will struggle to meet long-term demand.

Child care costs: Another significant obstacle for potential employees, particularly parents of young children, is the rising cost of child care.

With the average cost of care at $13.85 per hour, many parents find it financially challenging to accept entry-level positions. As a result, the labor pool available to hotel and other hospitality sector operators has become smaller, making it increasingly difficult to find qualified workers.

The scarcity of affordable, high-quality child care was already a significant issue prior to the pandemic. COVID-19 compelled many providers to shut down or reduce their services.

A report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and The Education Trust says the pandemic has set a detrimental cycle in motion for the child care industry: to make a comeback to work, workers need consistent child care, but the providers themselves are grappling with enormous obstacles, including their own labor shortage.

COVID-19 and attrition: The lack of demand during the pandemic resulted in many workers seeking alternative employment opportunities. As the industry faced uncertainty, some workers transitioned to more stable sectors or pursued different career paths.

Consequently, the labor pool shrunk further, exacerbating the existing worker shortage.

Of those who did return, some left again due to lingering challenges like staff workload due to a lack of employees.

Paths to success

In such a difficult hiring and employee retention environment, hotel operators who build a full workforce enjoy a competitive advantage. For example, while various brands shifted toward an opt-in model for housekeeping after the pandemic, at least one operator is returning to regular service, aiming at customer satisfaction.

Hilton will begin offering automatic daily housekeeping at its luxury, full-service, lifestyle brands as well as its Embassy Suites hotels worldwide this fall, spokesperson Josie Hill told USA Today. Other brands within the U.S. and Canada, including extended-stay hotels, will receive automatic service every other day. Currently, only luxury brands offer automatic daily cleanings; guests at Hilton’s nonluxury properties must request daily service.

This, of course, will raise the stakes on finding sufficient staff.

Many successful operators use a combination of tools, such as offering paid time off and health insurance and incorporating a diversity, equity and inclusion program.

Also, companies are looking abroad for help. They utilize immigration programs such as the H2-B and J-1 visa programs to bring in temporary workers, and the EB-3 green card, which allows employers to sponsor legally eligible workers for permanent positions.

As the CEO of an immigration staffing solutions business,, I have helped employers and foreign national workers navigate the EB-3 program. We help companies discover if they qualify and how many workers they are eligible to sponsor, and our team of recruiters and immigration attorneys guide employers through the process. The result is a long-term solution for hotel operators wanting a steady supply of motivated and grateful employees.

Understanding the EB-3 Green Card Process

The EB-3 green card program, part of the United States’ employment-based immigration system, was designed to be a solution for U.S. employers suffering from chronic staffing shortages. EB-3, short for “Employment-Based Immigration: Third Preference,” is aimed at entry level workers performing jobs for which qualified workers are not available in the U.S.

By sponsoring eligible foreign national workers for an EB-3 green card, hotel operators can access a global talent pool, which can be leveraged to fill vacancies, reduce staff turnover and improve overall business stability.

The EB-3 is a three-step process.

Employers first file a Program Electronic Review Management (PERM) labor certification with the Labor Department to demonstrate that there are insufficient available, qualified and willing U.S. workers to fill the position, and that hiring the foreign national workers will not adversely affect U.S. workers’ wages and working conditions.

Once the certification is approved, employers can then file an immigrant visa petition (Form I-140) with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on behalf of the worker.

Finally, once the applicant’s priority date is current, the applicant can apply for the final permanent residence card (green card) either within the United States or at a U.S. embassy outside the U.S.

Throughout this process, offers extensive support, including recruiting and immigration attorney services to manage the application, preparing all necessary documents, and coordinating communication between all parties.

By addressing these challenges, hotel operators can create not only a sustainable and thriving workforce but a competitive advantage by having all locations fully staffed.