Hotels and resorts from coast to coast are coming up short-staffed as the federal government seeks to reduce the number of foreign-born workers who typically fill housekeeping, kitchen, front desk and banquet positions.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has stepped up its persecution of employers working with illegal aliens, recently raiding the luxurious Lansdowne Resort in Loudon County, Va., rounding up 59 undocumented workers from El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras, Bolivia, Peru and Argentina. Last month, the agency arrested 900 illegal aliens living and working in California, including 63 working at a restaurant chain; 84 in Austin, San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley; and several more working in hotels and restaurants in Iowa, New York, Wisconsin and Florida.
It’s not just illegal aliens who are getting squeezed out of the hospitality industry. Many seasonal foreign workers who staff resorts every summer will be denied entry to the United States this year. Annually, the U.S. government caps the number of H-2B visas for temporary, non-agricultural jobs at 66,000. Prior to fall 2007, workers who had received a H-2B visa within the past three years were not counted against the cap. Last year, 130,000 visas were issued. When Congress failed to renew the returning worker exemption clause by Sept. 30, 2007, ski resorts were left short-staffed for the high season; beach resorts are now trying to figure out how to create a quality experience with reduced staff during their high season.
Some hoteliers insist that locals are not interested in filling the minimum-wage positions typically held by foreign-born workers. When faced with staffing shortages left by raids or visa restrictions, some hotels are opting to cut or curtail offered services rather than risk giving guests a lower level of service. But some employers have found a solution to the staffing shortage in their own backyards, through programs like Hilton’s Hospitality Institute, which train and pair homeless people with employers willing to give them a second chance.