May 28, 2018


Seasonal Workers Hard to Find (David Sharp and Claudia Torrens, May 27, 2018, AP)

Phippsburg, Maine -- Frustrated by red tape and visa limits on foreign workers, tourism businesses from Maine to Missouri are turning to Puerto Ricans who are fleeing a shattered economy and devastation caused by Hurricane Maria.

Bob Smith, owner of Sebasco Harbor Resort in Phippsburg, hired a half-dozen Puerto Ricans last summer for housekeeping, landscaping and kitchen work, providing relief to his overworked staff. This summer he is doubling the number, and he would like to hire even more.

Louis Morales, 50, of Comerio, Puerto Rico, is happy to be here because he makes double the salary he would back home, where jobs are scarce.

"A lot of people lost their houses, their jobs, everything. It's not the same now," said Morales, a maintenance worker who worked at Sebasco last year and has recruited more residents from Comerio to join him.

Employers large and small are seeking alternative solutions as demand continues to outstrip the annual allotment of 66,000 H-2B temporary visas, which are issued for workers holding down seasonal, nonagricultural jobs.

Critics fear that immigration politics were playing a role in program changes starting last summer. Compounding the uncertainty for businesses was a lottery system and background check delays on workers who come from dozens of countries from the Caribbean to Croatia.

On Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced 15,000 additional visas and acknowledged reforms were needed.

With Maine's unemployment rate below 3 percent, there aren't enough local people willing to take those seasonal jobs, Smith said.

"People say you should give these jobs to Americans. If you can find 'em, then that's great," he said. "The only Americans we can find to do the work right now are in Puerto Rico."

Posted by at May 28, 2018 3:51 AM