Donald Trump’s Visa Curbs Get Americans into Ski Resort Jobs

Woman free skiing in fresh powder in Laax, Switzerland.
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President Donald Trump’s June 22 curbs on visa workers is forcing reluctant ski resorts to hire Americans in place of foreign workers, according to a report in the Colorado Sun.

Jason Blevins at the Colorado Sun reported that the ski resorts are reluctantly filling their jobs with young Americans instead of the J-1 and H-2B visa workers, which were blocked by Trump:

“Trying to fill positions without an international pool of applicants is a little concerning, but we think we can replace them domestically,” said Jim Laing, the head of human resources for Aspen Skiing Co., which typically hires about 400 J-1 exchange visa workers every season. “Our applications from college kids are up pretty significantly over prior years. We are targeting college-age applicants, but they seem to be targeting us as well. That’s a bright light in this mess.”

“We have already ramped up winter season recruiting efforts and have been pleased with the results so far,” said Vail Resorts spokesman Ryan Huff. “We have found interest among students who have more flexibility now due to online learning or deferring college attendance for a year. And our employees from prior seasons are also showing enthusiasm to return.”

The successful hiring, however, is a problem for the business groups that are asking a judge to block Trump’s job-saving, wage-generating executive order. A version of the lawsuit, filed July 17, says:

The [J-1] summer work/travel program has a cap of 109,000 vias per year. Employers who seek to hire summer students in the program, as well as employers seeking to hire interns and trainees, must certify that in doing so they “will not diplace U.S.  workers at worksite where they will replace program participants.”

There ceritfication requirements ensure that it is legally and practically impossible … for the J exchange programs to be responsible for the “particularly high” unemployment rates for”young Americans, who compete with certain J non-immigrant visa applicants.”

The lawsuit is getting a hearing before a D.C. judge on August 27.

In June, Blevins reported the ski industry’s claims that their future was threatened by Trump’s popular executive order barring the entry of foreign workers hired via the J-1, H-1B, and L-1 labor pipelines.

“If you are an HR director at a ski area, you are panicking right now,” Dave Byrd, the policy director for the 400-plus member National Ski Areas Association told Blevins in June, stating, “J-1s are not taking American jobs. We have tapped every single person in local communities who would be interested in taking short-term, temporary jobs. Without these workers, we are losing economic activity.”

Fast-forward to August, and Blevins reported on one American coed, Mia Conley, who expected to attend Colorado State University this Fall:

But the graduate of Eagle Valley High School deferred her acceptance in July, after finding out all but one of her classes were going to be online. She’s decided to get a job near home and attend Colorado Mountain College to complete college credits at a fraction of the cost.

“I thought about taking a gap year all through high school. It’s always been in the back of my mind, but I wasn’t going to do it but now I have the opportunity,” the avid skier said. “Maybe I’ll travel. Do some school wherever there’s Wi-Fi. Absolutely I’ll do some skiing. I’m taking this whole thing as a blessing.”

Many Fortune 500 companies import visa workers via the J-1, H-1B, L-1, OPT, CPT, TN, H-2B, H-2A, and other visa programs. The programs keep roughly 2 million foreign contract-workers in an expanding variety of U.S. jobs, so minimizing CEOs’ concerns about workforce turnover, domestic technology theft, worker quality, workplace civil-rights obligations, and escalating pay competition, which CEOs stigmatize as “poaching”:

“To claim that ski resorts can’t find Americans to work is laughable,” especially because 30 million Americans are jobless, said Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies. The visa programs, he said:

Seem harmless — “It’s only a few people!” “What the deal?” — but, like a drug, the companies become dependent on them, and they build their business around these models, so when there is an interruption, they demanded more of the drug. The solution is to not create that dependency.

But the Colorado Sun article shows again that executives can rebuild their American labor supply, Krikorian said.

Employers can actually try to hire Americans, including students and old people, for part-time work, he said. They can work with local schools and colleges to adjust schedules, and they can create staffing companies to help 20-something Americans move through several seasonal jobs around the nation, he said.

“Seasonal jobs might not be attractive for middle-aged men with kids and mortgages — but for young people who don’t have mortgages and families, who are still figuring out what they want to do, they could be very attractive,” he said.

These seasonal jobs are also good for society because they help teenagers become responsible adults, he said:

It is good for them to have the opportunity to earn money … but one of the most important things you need to learn as a youth is how to be an employee — not just the job skills, but how to work with the public, how to show up on time, and how not to lash out a crappy supervisor. If you’re not working when you are young, you miss a chance to acquire those skills.

The industry’s preference for compliant, easy-to-manage, visa workers was outlined in a July 10 podcast by The Storm Skiing Journal. Byrd, who also serves as the chief advocated for the National Ski Areas Association, told the journal:

We’re using summer work travel [workers]. And what that means is, these are college students. So, for the southern hemisphere, because their summer break in college aligns with our winter ski seasons, they’re coming up to the U.S. to see how American businesses operate.

There’s also an intern component, separate and apart from summer work travel [program]. That intern is a separate visa under the J-1 [program]. Those are specifically for college students who are going towards a career in hospitality in some fashion, and so they take internee positions. Deer Valley, for example, utilizes them very successfully. And it’s a wonderful program. If you’re in a hospitality major or lodging type of study program down in New Zealand or South Africa, South America, wherever, these internee programs in the U.S., because of our American business models, are so well-honed there, those are very great positions to get.

So, the resorts work with sponsoring agencies here in the U.S., who handle a lot of the recruiting, a lot of the regulatory process through the State Department. There are interviews. There are background checks. There’s fingerprinting. They have to — as I mentioned — interview down at the embassies where they’re coming from. If they’re coming from, say, Romania or Poland, they’re going to embassies over there. They provide their own travel [costs], but we do pay them the same wage-rate as American workers. The J-1s work with the ski areas is to find housing in the local community.

The ski groups are working with legislators to persuade the White House to lift the June 22 curbs, he said.

We’re going to be working with the administration, with members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, to help us advocate to the White House, to the State Department, to the Department of Labor, and Homeland Security. We’re going to make a very strong economic argument, seeking a modification of the proclamation and within the proclamation itself … Specifically, we need both J-1s and H-2Bs, even at a time of higher unemployment because of COVID, [so we need] a modification that allows these people to be in-country by December 1.

If you think about it, with so many ski areas impacted in March by the early closures, as an industry, we lost more than $2 billion for the 2020 year because of that early closure, missing out on Spring Break and Easter. We can’t have that happen again for our winter and holiday season. I would estimate in that period of time between mid-December in the first week of January, you know it’s a three-to-four week window, we make upwards of 20 to 25 percent of our revenue of the entire season during that window, and we have to be staffed appropriately.

Thirty million Americans have lost their jobs since China’s coronavirus smashed up the U.S. economy:

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