Senator King, colleagues urge Biden Administration to address winter season worker shortage

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Last week U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) joined a bipartisan group of colleagues to call on the Biden administration to expedite H-2B work visas as many of Maine’s businesses prepare for the approaching winter ski and tourism season in Maine. In a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Department of Labor (DOL) Marty Walsh, the Senators highlight the urgent need for workers across the nation’s ski and winter tourism industry and stress that failure to quickly provide H-2Bs will cause harm to Maine skiing communities.

Over the last several years, the seasonal tourism industry has struggled to hire enough American workers to meet demand. The H2-B work visa program allows U.S. employers to fill these open roles with foreign nationals in temporary nonagricultural jobs when the local workforce is not applying for them.

“H-2B workers are especially vital to the ski and winter tourism industry nationwide, which is anticipating severe workforce shortages ahead of hiring for its busiest season,” the Senators wrote. “According to the National Ski Areas Association, 81% of all ski areas in the U.S. had unfilled winter jobs in the 2022 ski season. Additionally, the average number of winter positions that went unfilled at ski areas was 76 – a steep increase from an average of 55 unfilled positions in 2021.”

“The urgency of addressing these workforce shortages cannot be overstated. In addition to ski and winter tourism businesses themselves, the rural mountain communities who host them depend heavily on winter tourism and recreation visitors for their overall economic health and growth. Because employment start dates for ski area employees typically occur in early December, the statutory H-2B cap has been met too early for the industry to effectively utilize the program every year since 2018,” the Senators continued.

“Given the lengthy timelines involved in securing H-2B visa slots and hiring and onboarding recipients, each day that passes without action contributes to the risk of those challenges repeating themselves. Releasing the recently-announced 65,000 supplemental H-2B visas as soon as possible will ensure that major winter employers like ski areas, and the mountain communities that depend on them, have a fair shot at accessing the program when H-2Bs are needed most,” the Senators concluded.

The Maine ski and winter tourism season traditionally runs from late-fall through early-spring.

Senator King has long led efforts to address workforce shortages with the H-2B program. Following a push earlier this year, DHS and DOL announced that they will increase the number of H-2B visas for Fiscal Year 2023 to the maximum number, approximately 65,000 additional visas, to help small businesses hire workers. These visas are on top of the 66,000 H-2B visas that are normally available each fiscal year.

Senator King was joined on this letter by Senators John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).

The complete letter can be found in a PDF file here.

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