Many of the businesses that used to provide employment to American teenagers are now so dependent on foreign workers that they say they’ll cut back on their business or shut down entirely this summer because of delays in getting visas.
That is a shocking choice given the fact that millions of Americans remain out of work. More than 17.4 million Americans are collecting some form of unemployment insurance right now. While many of those workers are arguably over-qualified for summer jobs at hotels, restaurants, and retail stores in popular summer destinations, there are plenty of Americans looking for jobs who would be good candidates—but employers act as if they cannot be hired.
There are 543,000 Americans aged 16 to 19 who are counted as officially unemployed, meaning they are looking for work but cannot find it. That includes 136,00 black teenagers, a group with an unemployment rate of 18.1 percent. Overall, the teenage unemployment rate is 13 percent.
Yet these would-be workers are apparently invisible to employers. Here’s the Associated Press report:
The owner of seafood restaurants on Cape Cod has eliminated lunch service and delayed the opening of some locations because his summertime influx of foreign workers hasn’t arrived yet.
More than a thousand miles away, a Jamaican couple is fretting about whether the rest of their extended family can join them for the seasonal migration to the popular beach destination south of Boston that’s been a crucial lifeline for them for decades.
As vaccinated Americans start to get comfortable traveling again, popular summer destinations are anticipating a busy season. But hotel, restaurant and retail store owners warn that staffing shortages exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic could force them to limit occupancy, curtail hours and services or shut down facilities entirely just as they’re starting to bounce back from a grim year.
The problem, they say, is twofold: The annual influx of seasonal foreign workers has stalled in places because of the pandemic. Businesses have also struggled to attract U.S. workers, even as many have redoubled their efforts to hire locally amid high unemployment.
“It’s the ‘Hunger Games’ for these employers, fighting for getting these guest workers into the country while also trying everything they can to recruit domestically,” said Brian Crawford, an executive vice president for the American Hotel and Lodging Association, a Washington, D.C.-based industry group. “It’s really frustrating. They’re trying to regain their footing after this disastrous pandemic but they just can’t catch a break.”
While some Americans may be discouraged from returning to work because they can collect more by remaining on unemployment, this does not really apply to younger workers seeking summer jobs.
The AP explains what happened to mess up access to foreign workers preferred by summer hotspots.
Earlier this month, President Joe Biden let expire a controversial ban on temporary worker visas such as the J-1 program for students and the H-2B program for nonagricultural laborers imposed by former President Donald Trump.
But American embassies and consulates remain closed or severely short-staffed in many countries. The U.S. has also imposed restrictions on travelers from countries including the United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil and South Africa because of the emergence of new virus variants or rising COVID-19 cases.
Advocates for the J-1 program, which brings in about 300,000 foreign students annually, urged the State Department in a letter Thursday to exempt the applicants from the travel bans and provide other relief so they can start their summer jobs. Ilir Zherka, head of the Alliance for International Exchange, which sent the letter along with more than 500 supporting groups and companies, argued the J-1 program doesn’t just benefit local economies, but also helps strengthen national security by promoting understanding and appreciation of U.S. culture.
Supporters of the H-2B program, meanwhile, have renewed their call to overhaul the program, which is capped at 66,000 visas per fiscal year. The Biden administration, citing the summer demand from employers, said Tuesday it will approve an additional 22,000 H-2B visas, but lawmakers from New England and other regions that rely on the visas for tourism, landscaping, forestry, fish processing and other seasonal trades say that’s still inadequate.
“That’s infinitesimal. It isn’t anywhere close to the need,” said Congressman Bill Keating, a Democrat representing Cape Cod.
The “need” apparently cannot be filled by unemployed American teenagers. (Also, does anyone really believe national security is significantly improved or that these temporary worker programs promote “understanding and appreciation of U.S. culture?”)
The explanations for this make so little sense that I don’t think they are even trying. Here’s one saying it comes down to “a simple math problem.”
But the need for international workers on Cape Cod — where soaring housing costs have been a major barrier to generating a substantial homegrown workforce — boils down to a simple math problem, Hay said.
Provincetown, a popular gay resort community at the very tip of the cape, has just 2,200 year-round residents, yet restaurants like Hay’s employ about 2,000 workers in high season alone.
“We’re on a dead-end street up here, basically,” he said. “There’s no one else coming.”
If soaring housing costs are a problem, how does adding more workers help? Where do the foreign workers live? If businesses can bring workers in from as far away as Brazil or Ireland, why can’t they bring kids in from Detroit or Minneapolis?