The seasonal visa was quota raised, but can that fix the labor crunch?


For the first time, the federal government is expanding the cap on H-2B visas available for the winter season — by 60%. For employers looking to hire seasonal workers on or before March 31, some 20,000 extra visas are up for grabs.

Is this the quick labor market fix some industries need?

Jeff Hanle at Aspen Skiing Company said his resort complex hires hundreds of temporary workers in a typical winter. “Unfortunately, in our business, we’re never fully staffed,” he said.

The company uses visa workers at its bars and restaurants and to teach ski lessons in different languages. This year, it’s been hard to get international workers. For one, they have to be vaccinated to enter the U.S. Plus, visa processing has been delayed during the pandemic.

“We had some employees who had to travel from their home country to another country where they could get into the consulate to get what they needed to get here,” Hanle said.

Steve Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration law practice at Cornell, said that if employers get past these hurdles, the visas could help the labor shortage … a little bit.

“‘A little bit’ is the operative word, you know. An additional 20,000 visas is not a lot, in the greater scheme of things,” he said.

Plus, what seemed like a good solution to the labor problem a month ago may not even work now. Now, the omicron variant likely has employers rethinking their staffing equations, according to Brad Hershbein at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.

“Because there’s a lot of uncertainty some of the employers may decide they can’t project whether they’re going to need all the workers or the visas,” Hershbein said.

And the price tag may not be worth it. Between application and legal fees, Hershbein said, it costs an employer thousands of dollars to hire just one worker on a seasonal visa.