The story of the lodging industry is a story of people—hospitality professionals and the guests who they serve. Supporting some 6 million jobs, creating economic opportunities, and strengthening community development, the lodging industry continues to see dynamic growth in small towns and big cities across the country. Indeed, as a guest-centric industry, we would not be successful without the professionals who work tirelessly at our properties day in and day out. They are the ones who deliver memorable experiences to our guests, strive to provide superior customer service, keep operations running in the “back of the house,” ensure the upkeep of the property and grounds, clean guestrooms, and, simply put, are the face of our industry.
The success of lodging is in large measure due to the dedicated employees and workforce who operate our lodging facilities. Finding, training, and retaining those employees is one of the greatest challenges hotels face on a daily basis, and the peaks and valleys of the seasonal tourism-based economy only exacerbate this challenge.
Though we pride ourselves on offering good jobs with competitive wages, finding hardworking, reliable employees has proven to be difficult when hiring temporary workers during busy seasons. Many potential American workers have little interest in working on a temporary basis. Think about the task of filling multiple jobs to help run and maintain a high-end resort. It isn’t just extra help—properties need to fill essential positions, such as servers, front desk workers, room attendants, line cooks, ski lift operators, and lifeguards. All of these jobs must be filled on a seasonal basis when more bookings increase the need for services.
We are just one of the many industries that require seasonal workforce. To address the gap, the federal government implemented the H-2B visa program to help employers assign essential jobs when they cannot find American workers. Over time, the H-2B visa program has evolved into a small—but necessary—part of the American economic landscape, serving as a lifeline to help to create and sustain U.S. jobs.
With roughly half the hotel industry owned and operated by small business owners, the H-2B visa program serves as a lifeline to keep their doors open and maintain the jobs American workers depend on year-round.
The H-2B visa program complements the U.S. workforce; it doesn’t compete with it. H-2B workers account for less than one-tenth of 1 percent of U.S employment. Despite this infinitesimal number, the workers available under this program are critical to the hoteliers who depend on seasonal business. On average, every H-2B visa helps sustain 4.6 American jobs.
Though it would often be easier and cheaper for our employers to hire American citizens, the simple fact is, it’s difficult to find qualified and dependable seasonal employees. We try. Before applying for the H-2B visa program, employers must prove they cannot find local U.S. workers to fill the jobs. The U.S. Department of Labor must certify the need for workers and set the amount temporary workers are to be paid, ensuring H-2B workers don’t undercut American workers.
Unfortunately, this program often gets caught in the crosshairs of the immigration debate. As a legal visa program, H-2B seasonal workers return to their countries of origin after the season is done. They don’t stay in America, they don’t bring their families with them, and they contribute to Social Security, even though they will never be able to collect it. This is not an immigration program.
In fact, the H-2B program helps to reduce illegal immigration by giving employers an alternative to hiring undocumented workers when Americans are not willing to take these temporary jobs. H-2B is an essential program that helps to ensure that the communities hotels support remain vibrant while keeping businesses running at their best.
For the hundreds of employers who count on these hardworking employees to stay in business, the H-2B visa program is tremendously important. This is why AH&LA continues to be vocal to members of Congress and the Executive Branch about the value of H-2B programs and ensure everyone understands the value of this program. It’s a win-win for all involved: employees, businesses, and the communities they support.
About the Author
Brian Crawford is the vice president of government and political affairs at AH&LA.