Tourist industry says added visas may be 'too late'

New work visas

PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Maine’s tourist hotels and restaurants have been struggling this year to get enough workers. One of the big problems was a cut in the number of foreign workers allowed under the federal government’s H2B visa program.

The Maine Innkeepers Association says that resulted in as many as 2,000 fewer workers coming to the state this year.

The industry puts the blame on the federal government, which cut back the number of foreign workers allowed under the H2B visa program. It allows adults to work six months for seasonal businesses, and has become a popular source of employees for summer businesses. Especially important, the industry says, because student workers head back to school in mid to late August. But this year the government put a cap of 66,000 visas for the country, and dropped the usual practice of allowing additional "returning" foreign workers to be hired as well.

Now the government is allowing an additional 15,000 H2B visas nationwide, but people in the business say it may be too late to bring much help in Maine.

"I don’t think it really will do anybody any good," said Bob Smith, owner of the Sebasco Harbor Resort. "The reality is the earliest anyone will get anybody is the end of August. And summer’s gone, summer will be gone."

Greg Dugal of the Maine Innkeepers Association told NEWS CENTER the added visas may help provide some new workers for the fall season in resort areas like Bar Harbor or Ogunquit. But he also said that help might not come quickly.

"There’s a fair amount of work to be done to execute this so it leads one to believe how long will it take for these people to get here?" said Dugal.

He also wondered if there will be foreign workers ready to come to Maine for a few months work.

"Are they waiting at the embassy to come? Probably not," he said, adding that by this time many who were prepared months ago to come to the U.S. for the season might have already found other work in their home country.

However, Dugan said he hopes the added visas are a sign the Trump Administration now understands the needs of the seasonal businesses, and will provide more visas and a better process next year.

© 2017 WCSH-TV


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