The ski resort industry, reeling from early closures in March, suffered another major blow this week when President Donald Trump extended a ban on visas for immigrant workers through the end of the year.
Citing soaring unemployment, Trump’s proclamation applies to H-1B visas used by technology companies, H-2B visas and J-1 visas. The resort industry has spent years relying on visa workers, especially J-1s, many of them college students from the southern hemisphere who spend several months at resorts teaching skiing.
“Tourism is the hardest hit business sector from COVID-19. Throw in the fact that rural communities have been hit hard by the pandemic and our ability to open back up come November and December is really going to be strained if we don’t have a labor force to help us,” said Dave Byrd, the policy director for the 400-plus member National Ski Areas Association. “There is a huge amount of anxiety right now. If you are an HR director at a ski area, you are panicking right now.”
The NSAA’s annual report from ski areas showed 51% of more than 400 ski areas in the country unable to fill all their openings last season, well before the pandemic shut down the industry in mid-March. The average number of positions left unfilled was 44. The larger resorts were unable to fill several hundred jobs.
Labor has been a stress point for ski areas for many years, with the skyrocketing cost of housing in rural resort communities challenging resorts large and small when it comes to filling food and beverage, lodging, housekeeping and on-mountain jobs. For years, resorts have relied on H-2B visa workers and more recently, J-1 workers to fill empty positions once taken by American college students and locals.