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Small Businesses in US Struggle to Find Workers



In many areas of the United States, tourist season lasts less than half the year.

Businesses that operate only a few months out of the year say they make most of their profit when tourists visit, called “peak season.”

The owners of many of these businesses say they are unable to get Americans to work for them. That is probably because the wages are low and the work is temporary and mostly unskilled. Many of these jobs are in restaurants and hotels.

Many years ago, American teenagers filled these positions. But fewer do so now and they are only available for three months during the summer. In many tourist areas of the country, there also are few young people. Many people have retired and do not want to work anymore.

So these businesses depend on foreign workers. These workers are permitted to come to the United States and work using an H2B temporary visa. This year, however, the limit on H2B visas has been reached. And some employers are worried that they will not be able to continue operations.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said the H2B program hurts the “wages and job opportunities of American workers.” However, before he was president, Donald Trump employed H2B workers at his golf club in Florida.

VOA recently went to the coast of the eastern state of Massachusetts, where spring and summer arrive later than in other parts of the country.

Jane Nichols Bishop operates an employment company. She helps business owners find workers from places such as Jamaica and the Philippines. She says without these workers, it is difficult for some companies to care for their customers.

“Who’s going to make the beds, clean the bathrooms, serve the food, cook the food, do the dishes? There isn’t anyone here to do it -- not enough, anyway.”

Bishop submitted 171 applications for businesses for H2B workers. Only 24 were approved before the limit on the number of such visas was reached. She says, she is bringing just 300 H2B workers to the area instead of 3,000.

Allen Sylvester operates American Tent and Table, a company owned by his family. He says the company earns 80 to 90 percent of its profits in five months during the spring and summer. That is when many outdoor weddings take place.

He employs 7 to 8 Americans and 13 H2B visa workers.

He says it is difficult to find Americans willing to work for just five months of the year. He says the lack of American workers, and the lower number of H2B visa holders, may cause his yearly revenue to fall by up to 20 percent.

He says it is difficult to hire foreign workers.

“There’s a stack of paperwork like this you have to fill out. It’s nothing anyone would do -- I would say anyone who’s smart enough to own their own business wouldn’t be dumb enough to use the H2B program to fill their employees if there was another way to do it.”

Before companies can hire foreign workers using the H2B visa program, they must show that they have first tried to hire Americans.

Jim Underdah is the general manager of the Coonamessett Inn. He says problems with the system has caused a delay in the arrival of the workers.

As a result, he says businesses like his have decided to employ full-time workers even when travelers are not visiting. Businesses call this the off-season.

“I don’t want to lose those employees, so I have people in the kitchen that we work 40 hours for the winter, so they’re not going to leave me. They’re gonna say ‘Hey, they’re treating us good.’ They’re going to be here this spring. They’re going to get me through.”

If the businesses are not able to find more workers, they may have to open later, reduce services or change the way they operate.

Businesses in the state of Maine, just north of Massachusetts, are also having problems finding workers. The state, which calls itself “Vacationland,” needs thousands of foreign workers every summer.

Greg Dugal is the president of the Maine Innkeepers and Restaurants Association. He told WCSH-TV that businesses in the state may only get one-third of the 3,000 workers with H2B visas that they have asked for.

Businesses hope Congress will make changes to the H2B program to expand the number of foreign workers permitted before April 28th as part of federal budget legislation.

Currently, the program permits 66,000 foreign workers to come to the U.S. with H2B visas. The limit was reached in March.

Some bills being proposed would permit workers who are returning to some jobs to not be counted in the 66,000 worker limit. If the legislation is approved, as many as 264,000 H2B workers could be filling jobs in the U.S. this year.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

VOA Correspondent Ramon Taylor reported this story from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the report for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in This Story

tourist season – n. a time of year in which people travel to a place to have fun and enjoy themselves

peak – adj. the highest point, the period with the most of something

tourist – n. a person who travels for pleasure

customers – n. people who buy goods or services

applications – n. a formal written request for something such as a permit, job or admission to a school

revenue – n. money paid to a business or organization

stack – n. an orderly pile of something such as papers or other things

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