This past 4th of July holiday, hit a record for Cape Cod. The tiny New England vacation resort was packed to the gills. The trouble is, “The Cape” as insiders call it, couldn’t handle the onslaught of sun and fun-seeking tourists. Overtaxed highways, restaurants and hotels stretched many seasonal businesses well beyond their limits. The record number of vacationers also came at a time when many Cape and Island business owners are facing staffing shortages and job vacancies. The demand for services far outweighed the ability to provide them, leaving vacationers frustrated and business owners frantic for more help.
Newspapers all over the country are reporting similar headaches, and business owners from Alaska to Texas, Cape Cod to California are pleading with law and policy makers to intercede before more harm is done. Fisheries, shrimpers, vineyards, theme and water parks, resorts and restaurants are screaming for the help they need and for the limits to foreign workers visas to be lifted. While the Department of Homeland Security recently responded saying they would issue an undisclosed number of additional foreign worker visas, they won’t come in time to bail out many summer business owners.
The perfect storm of high worker demand and low supply is harming business owners across the United States. Businesses are pleading Congress for relief to visa caps. Ironically, these foreign worker visa restrictions were put to place to boost the American economy and lower unemployment rate. The plan is not working and neither are more Americans.
What’s to be done? Suggestions and solutions are as polarized as the parties that are concocting proposals destined to create more chaos for seasonal business owners. Labor groups argue higher pay for seasonal or temporary jobs would entice more Americans to these often unglamorous, labor-intensive and difficult-to-fill temporary positions. The reality is people probably won’t last long under the hard work, hot kitchens and long hours even if the ante were upped. That comes directly from business owners who have tried to hire locally. But at this point, they are literally being forced to hire anyone with a pulse.
Business owners tell us that foreign workers, on the whole, tend to be more dedicated. They won’t or can’t legally jump ship for a prettier package offered by a business owner across the street, like many American workers will. The investment foreigner make to come to the states (airfare and visa fees), coupled with the poor economic conditions in their home countries are the impetus for them to want to work in the US under conditions most Americans don’t favor. Strict visa regulations and strong work ethics make them better candidates for jobs many American workers refuse.
H2-B visa holders are permitted to return year after year, so they are trained and well-skilled. Not so with the warm bodies that employers are snatching off the street. So desperate are many business owners, that formalities like background checks and training are luxuries they can’t afford. Strap on an apron, fire up a skillet and sear up a steak!
Safety, sanitation and screenings be damned, and buyer beware.
And desperate times call for desperate measures. In the height of the Maine tourist season, conservative Governor Paul R. LePage, is commuting prisoners in an attempt to address the struggling state’s labor shortages.
The problem is going to be doubled if proposed changes to other visa programs are pushed through under the “America First Foreign Policy.” The Summer Work Travel is a program that allows foreign students to work during their summer holiday. Now this temporary, nonimmigrant visa program is under scrutiny and petitioners of reform propose drastic cuts to the number of visas issued. Limiting this source of seasonal and summer help could mean curtains for more American businesses.
Reductions to the Summer Work Travel J-1 visa will equate to reductions in summertime businesses. The thought of operating without the reliable help is “distressing employers relying heavily on foreign students this year.”
Already, businesses and advocacy groups are banning together to petition state representatives and congressmen to stop any more harm from happening to the American economy and many American businesses.
There’s a lot that can be done to change policies that protect our nation’s prosperity and preserve jobs for Americans. There’s probably good argument for changes to immigrations policies, too. But tossing nonimmigrant visa programs into these broader debates has created a real debacle for American businesses and people.
As a long standing vacationer on Cape Cod, I’ve come to rely on the Moldavia’s girl’s sunny disposition as she rings up my groceries at the local Cape Cod supermarket, the sweet-sounding Jamaican housekeeper who tidies rooms in a nearby inn, or the lovely Irish girls who spend their summers as shopkeepers. The exotic lilts and tones of their foreign accents and their friendly attitudes have become as much a part of my beloved summer traditions as the sunsets, sand, surf and handmade ice cream down the street.