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American Businesses Need Foreign Workers

July 10, 2017

I have been trying to stay abreast of news reports about how businesses have been faring with employment issues since the start of the Trump Administration.  Today I ran into report from Massachusetts, and it mirrors other news accounts that smooth sailing is not what many employers are facing these days.

The Fourth of July has come and gone, and for Cape and Islands employers grappling with a worker shortage, reality has set in. This is going to be a rough summer.

Businesses are getting by — hiring anyone who walks in the door, bringing on more students, even giving shifts to foreign workers brought to the United States by other companies, which is against the law. But training and overtime costs are starting to pile up, and some employers have had to turn away banquet business and cancel landscaping contracts, for example, because they don’t have enough employees.

The shortage stems from a change to the H-2B seasonal visa program that limited the number of foreign workers businesses could hire, despite a soaring need. An unknown number of additional visas are set to be granted at the end of the month, but that won’t get people here in time for the August rush.

Relying on inexperienced employees instead of foreign workers who come to the Cape every summer means slower service and more mistakes. Some workers had been employed by the same hotel or restaurant for decades. And with staff stretched to the limit, even just one person calling in sick can lead to a mad scramble to find a replacement.

The problem began last fall when Congress did not reauthorize an exemption that removes returning foreign workers from the annual H-2B visa cap of 66,000: 33,000 in the summer and 33,000 in the winter. With demand high and supply low, the limit for the summer season was reached in mid-March, earlier than ever.

Last month, the Department of Homeland Security said it would issue an undetermined number of additional visas to businesses that would be “irreparably harmed and at risk of closing their doors” if they don’t get more workers. But details of how businesses must prove their need have not been released. The visas also wouldn’t be issued until late July at the earliest, and the processing and vetting times mean workers likely couldn’t start until September.

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