Friday, March 14, 2008

Where Has All The Summer Help Gone?

The falling value of the dollar, you would think, is good news to summer resort owners. Europe is too dear for Americans and the U.S. is a great bargain for Europeans. But when they all go off to Cape Cod, they just might find the hotels and restaurants shuttered. Resort owners have a new problem -- they can't find good help. It seems the failure of immigration debate of last summer to provide adequate numbers of foreign temporary workers -- so-called H-2B workers -- shatter their expectation of what should be a booming summer.

Provision for temps was to be integrated into a comprehensive measure. That's where the Hispanic Caucus in Congress says it belongs. Since the Republicans hold that the Dream Act can't be broken off and voted separately -- only fence and more enforcement -- the Caucua is holding summer temps hostage to get movement for comprehensive immigration reform.

This is hurting the summer resorts. Now Homeland Security and the Labor Department must administer the law strictly -- allowing only 66,000 foreign workers in temporary, half of which are for the summer. Last year more than twice that number were admitted. On Cape Cod there were 5,000 foreign temps, but this year only 15 will be allowed. Resort owners are looking everywhere for suitable replacements and finding few. The problem affects other seasonal businesses as well -- gardening and the circus.

The Save our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act had admitted additional H-2B workers. Extra quotas brought in chamber maids from Jamaica, cooks from Eastern Europe, gardeners from Mexico and the like -- all working without fear of ICE. But the bill expired at the end of September and the number of permissible foreign temps reverted to 66,000 -- split evenly between summer and winter. Now even some friendlies of immigration reform in Congress, whose districts included resorts on the East and West coasts, are pleading with the Hispanic Caucus to let up and allow legislation to go foreword -- at least to cover this summer. (See NY Times article.)

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