Michigan's tourism industry faces a very serious threat this summer that only quick action by Congress can remedy-a lack of enough workers to fully staff operations.
For seasonal businesses who cannot offer year-round employment, the challenge of identifying a dependable, skilled workforce has always been significant. For those of us located in northern Michigan, several hundred miles from major population centers, the challenge has been even more daunting.
Each year Grand Hotel makes a major effort to identify U.S. workers to fully staff our operations through a variety of methods including advertising and working with job fairs and culinary institutions and others. But these programs have not provided us with the workforce we need.
Some 30 years ago, we began to look to foreign nationals to fill positions for which we were finding no U.S. citizens were available. Because the Jamaican tourist season runs from roughly December 15th through April 15th, it dovetails perfectly with our season, which runs from May through October.
Guest workers have come to the U.S. under a special H2B visa which has allowed them to enter the U.S. to fill jobs for which U.S. workers are not available. At least 70 northern Michigan businesses have been relying on H2B workers, as have other seasonal employers around the country.
The result has been mutually beneficial for the businesses and the workers. At Grand Hotel we've had less than 5 percent turnover from year to year. Last year, more than 100 of our H2B workers had been with us at least 10 years, a fact in which we take pride and which speaks to the strong relationship we have with our workforce.
Nationally, the number of H2B visas was capped at 66,000 a year in 1990. When visa requests from employers mushroomed, Congress allowed returning workers to be exempt from the cap starting in 2004. More than 120,000 H2B visas were granted last year. But the exemption expired in September, when it was tied into the immigration reform...