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Summer help may be in short supply

Nancy Marshall-Genzer May 22, 2008


KAI RYSSDAL: Memorial Day is almost upon us. Which means summer vacations are too. Those who have travel plans may be celebrating, but seasonal small businesses most definitely aren’t. Because they’ll once again find themselves short of workers. Today the Labor Department announced some new rules to streamline the visa process for temporary foreign workers. But Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall Genzer reports the federal helping hand comes to late for this summer.

NANCY MARSHALL GENZER: Every summer, businesses like restaurants, hotels and landscapers rely on an army of temporary foreign workers. They come to the U.S. on H2B visas, good for 10 months.

Congress passed a temporary law that let these workers come back but not be counted in a cap of 66,000 new visas a year.

Chad Forcey is a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Landscape and Nursery Association:

CHAD FORCEY: I have a business owner in Pittsburgh, and he’s got workers who actually have their cars at the apartment complex where he has negotiated an arrangement with the owner.

Now Congress’s stop-gap expired, so workers can’t come back. The new Labor Department rules would extend the H2B visas to three years. The public has a few months to comment and the Labor Department has to respond before the rules can go into effect.

Forsey doubts that will happen before President Bush leaves office. But Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform says there’s another solution: hire Americans.

IRA MEHLMAN: The employers have gotten used to the idea that they can get workers at the price that they want to pay. They don’t want to compete in the free market for labor anymore.

The employers say they do pay well and still can’t find American workers.

Lynn Birleffi heads the Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association. She says hotels in sparsely-populated tourist towns are especially hard hit.

LYNN BIRLEFFI: Many of the managers are cooking in the kitchen, making beds and it’s very difficult to be managing and then always out there.

Birleffi’s advice for tourists this summer? Be patient.

In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

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