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Winter Park: Visa cap worries those who hire foreign workers

by Stephanie MillerSky-Hi Daily News
Byron Hetzler/Sky Hi Daily News
ALL | Sky Hi Daily News

Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the visa process that allows foreign visitors to work in the United States has become more challenging, and the ski industry is feeling the crunch.Every year, 33,000 H2B visas are issues in the United States. The H2B working visa allows foreign nationals to enter the United States temporarily for seasonal work, or other types of temporary occupation. A law was passed by U.S. Congress that increased the number of H2B workers allowed to work during the winter, and that law expires Oct. 1 every year. This year, however, the law wasnt renewed, and the government reached its winter H2B limit or cap on Sept. 27.Unless Congress acts to remove the quota, all additional applications will be rejected, meaning ski towns could see a drop in foreign workers this year.Winter Park Resort, which hires roughly 100 foreign workers a year, will not be affected by the cap this year, said Kelly Renoux. Renoux, who works for the resorts human resources department, said the resorts visa law group was very proactive this year to get applications through before the cap date.The cut-off didnt really affect us, Renoux said. Were already in the processing stages. We lucked out in Winter Park were not in a bind this year. What were hearing is thats not the case in other ski areas that hire guest workers.Renoux added, however, that the resort is being cautiously optimistic. When it comes to government, many are hesitant to admit the application process will go smoothly. In an e-mail submitted to its applicants, the resorts visa law firm admitted there is no timetable from the government to issue final approvals for visa applications. The cap on H2B visas didnt cause direct problems, but it has caused the government a great deal of stress and may slow them down a bit this year. The company is optimistic that approvals will be issued sometime in October or early November. Thats good news for Dixa Bustamante Rodriguez, who plans to work her fourth winter at the resort in the food and beverage department. Still, shes nervous. She plans to leave Peru in a month and extend her visa through the summer so she can spend more time with her boyfriend, a Winter Park local. Although she received a personal e-mail from her visa law group assuring her that her visa application was submitted before the cut-off date, the news that the United States has already reached its limit on visas is alarming.The entire six month process is a bit nerve-wracking for us, Rodriguez said. Because after the application process is waited out, the possibility remains that the visa could still be denied. The current situation increases our apprehension because it adds to what we were already feeling.Other resortsWhile Winter Park is feeling confident about its seasonal employee situation, other resorts such as Aspen are worried. We are effected in the hotel division, said Jeff Hanle, senior communications manager for Aspen and Snowmass. The applications for 100 working visas were recently approved for the mountain operations division at Aspen and Snowmass, he pointed out, because requests were filed prior to the deadline. The hotel division, however, could be short 130 workers. Were still waiting on some things, Hanle said. There is a possibility that foreign workers already established at the ski area may extend their visas, he explained, or that Congress will approve an extension in time for the winter season.But nobodys holding their breath.Were operating under the assumption that we wont have (those workers). Hopefully, theyll make some changes, he said. We are hopeful. Downtown retailersIn Winter Park, the resort isnt the only employer to hire workers on the H2B visa. Fortunately, local retailers seem to be ahead of the deadline.Paul Jones, owner of Ski Broker in Fraser, said his return employees from New Zealand have confirmed theyll be back Nov. 1. Micah McKeouth, manager for Ski Depot Sports in Winter Park, said the three foreign workers expected to return this winter already have their visas granted, and shes expecting to see them Dec. 3. SolVista Ski Basin uses a different type of visa the J1 visa for its foreign workers. The J1 visa is for students only, and allows college students to work for a three-and-a-half period, said Jill Ryall, manager of Granby Ranch. The J1 visa has not been affected by the gap a good thing, since SolVista hires 45 international employees, Ryall said.Future seasonsBut, while Grand County may not be feeling the crunch now, as security measures tighten, some anticipate problems in the future.Anything like this will have a trickle down effect, said Renoux. In the years coming up, there will be concern to us because any change made to immigration laws, the harder it will be to hire those folks. It shows that immigration over the last few years has definitely gotten tougher.Renoux said she expects the cap will be put in even earlier next year, as the United States attempts to tighten immigration laws. To reach Stephanie Miller call 887-3334 ext. 19601 or e-mail smiller@grandcountynews.com.


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