Still unclear, said Ron Farr, general manager of the 150-room hotel on Lake Huron in St. Ignatius.


The hotel is one of dozens of places – from restaurants to fiction shops and golf resorts – in Northern Michigan, relying on temporary international workers from places like Jamaica to fill the acute work void for seasonal jobs, including many in the resort and tourism industries.

Among other record years in the number of applicants for temporary federal visas, Best Western Harbor Pointe won the lottery, which will allow it to attract 22 housewives.

But the request for five vacancies at the reception did not go. Also did not make five positions on duty in the breakfast room. Now, Far said, he is trying to find a solution.

“What a joke,” Farr said of the federal visa system on which his hotel has relied since 2000.

“I mean, I can’t imagine any other industry that knows if it will be able to work and function this season based on luck in winning or losing the lottery.”

The demand for workers covers the entire state and affects what seems to be every industry. The situation has worsened over the years as unemployment and labor force participation have declined, but the pandemic exacerbated it when people left the workforce for reasons that included health problems, exhaustion and family care.

Every year Northern Michigan experiences severe labor shortages. And businesses that are now counting on international workers in the summer must find new solutions depending on the results of the lottery, which is becoming harder to win.

“We have no other branch in the Makinat Strait,” Far said. “Our industry is tourism.”

Applications for temporary work visas set another national record this year: 7,875 U.S. employers applied for visas through the federal Program H-2B to fill 136,555 non-agricultural posts, compared to 98,000 a year earlier. Of these, 33,000 visas were available, in effect, for summer work: six months of work beginning April 1, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The H-2B program allows foreign workers to come to the U.S. for seasonal work not occupied by Americans, usually unskilled work. It was started in the 1950s, according to the report The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, and in 1992 Congress set the current limit of 66,000 annual visas, which is now divided into two six-month lotteries.

Businesses applying for visas go beyond hospitality for landscape painters, construction professionals and cement workers in different parts of the state. Many small hotels and restaurants, mostly in Northern Michigan, have applied for this year’s lottery for the first time, hoping the program will help them.

“They’re willing to try anything to get the workers they need to support their business,” said Scott Patterson, an employment lawyer for Butzel Long Law Firm in Detroit, about the Michigan employers he works with on applications.

In Michigan, the shores of the state’s lakes are conducive to travel. And many of northern Michigan’s cities, so popular in the summer, don’t have the population to fill the seasonal jobs that are needed for the tourism economy, he said. In 2021, 3,400 temporary foreign workers came to the state, and this figure made a big difference for employers.

“There’s just not enough people to fill all those seasonal summer jobs that really drive the economy,” he said.

The Predicted by the US Travel Association Domestic travel across the country will increase this year by 11 percent compared to 2021, reaching a cost of $ 932 billion. While business travel still lags behind 2019 levels by about 25 percent, vacations are growing, reaching 101 percent before the pandemic year.

Michigan hotels are already experiencing summer demand, said Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association.

“Makinak Island is growing and mostly booked (on weekends and more) for the whole summer,” Winslow said.

“It’s great for them,” he continued. “… But meeting this demand will be difficult.”

У Mission Point Resort, CEO Mark Weir said he believes property on Makinak Island will not succeed in the visa lottery. He was right: he will be able to fill 10 of the 146 requested positions.

He is one of several Michigan business leaders who in 2021 calls for a major overhaul of the H-2B system resumed after a reduction in the federal budget it was possible to exclude the hospitality industry from the program. Congress later resumed it this year, which caused widespread relief, but revived concerns that the industry remains vulnerable to labor shortages as applications continue to grow without extending restrictions on the number of visas to be issued.

After several years of not receiving the requested visas, Mission Point this year began recruiting temporary workers already in the United States. The H-2B program allows workers to stay in the country for three years, and if companies can hire people already here – and don’t want to go home to visit family – they won’t count on new visas.

It’s not easy to compete with other summer resorts such as Nantucket in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Weir said. But Mission Point has spent $ 500,000 on a recent home renovation for foreign workers, and it is now updating canteens and enrichment program plans.

“There are so many jobs and opportunities,” he said. “It’s a struggle to convince people that this is where they need to be.”

Grand Traverse Resort & Spa manages its 600 rooms, three golf courses and banquet halls with about 750 employees each year. This year, 48 will come to other countries after the resort received four dozen new H-2B visas.

He is also working with winter resorts to recruit his foreign workers to supplement new visas. And it is turning to international internship programs and college students to find even more workers.

To increase the employee’s chances of choosing the Grand Traverse resort, he is building a new one-bedroom house with 40 apartments for employees, said Matthew McClellan, the resort’s head of human resources. The foundation will be laid this spring, and it should be ready by 2023.

Because of the large number of year-round retirees in the Traverse City area, the property has also been able to attract and retain locals to work in the summer, in part with a bonus for using golf courses, McClellan said.

The internship program is especially helpful, McClellan said. He is also working with Michigan colleges in these positions and will be teaching 24 students from the state this summer.

“The shortage of staff is no longer just in the summer,” he told Most. “They’re all year round.”

Some labor advocates, like the nonprofit Institute for Economic Policy, said in 2021 The H-2B program is not requiredwhich casts doubt on how the federal government identifies labor shortages.

However, Farr and other Michigan hotel operators say all the jobs they occupy as temporary workers are offered primarily to American workers. Hiring from the domestic workforce is unlikely, operators say, and not just because of labor constraints in tourist destinations.

“American workers are not looking for seasonal work,” Farr said. “They want full, year-round security, and you don’t get it for seasonal work.”

H-2B workers – who are not eligible to apply for citizenship in accordance with the principles of the program – are recruited on a national salary basis set by the Ministry of Labor.

These wages are rising, and in some cases exceed the required minimum wage in the program, said Patterson, Butzel’s lawyer. At Mission Point, Weir added, most workers now earn $ 14-20 an hour.

Employers who still need workers hope an additional 20,000 temporary workers will be allowed this summer, though they also say it should happen soon for workers to show up and be trained for Remembrance Day.

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