MINNEAPOLIS - Several Minnesota businesses say they are having a hard time finding seasonal employees this year, after Congress allowed a visa program to expire.
Businesses like Madden’s Resort and Breezy Point Resort near Brainerd rely on the H-2B visa program for temporary workers.
Last fall Congress allowed the "returning workers" exemption on the H-2B visa program to expire, limiting the number of workers allowed to come to the U.S. this year.
For Madden's Resort, that meant 28 visa workers who would have been hired at Madden's this year were not approved.
Madden’s chief operating officer was in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, lobbying Congress to increase the cap on H-2B visas.
“Our employees are needing to basically fill in those extra shifts, so 60- to 80-hour work weeks are not uncommon for these folks," said Ben Thuringer, COO of Madden’s Resort.
Thuringer says he's just not getting enough U.S. applicants who want jobs like cooking and housekeeping.
Breezy Point Resort applied for 25 H-2B visas this year, but was only approved for five of them, according to the resort's owner, David Spizzo.
"It's not just us," said Spizzo. "It's the other major resorts in this area that are struggling with that."
At Canterbury Park in Shakopee, race horse trainers are having a similar hiring struggle.
"For whatever reason, people that are native born to America do not gravitate to working in horse racing," said Mike Cronin, executive director of the Minnesota HBPA, a horse trainer's association. "It's been a little bit more of a challenge this year, because of the lack of visas that have been handed out."
Cronin says race horse trainers traditionally hire seasonal workers from Mexico through the H-2B visa program to groom and care for the horses. With the current cap on those visas, some trainers are short staffed.
"Everybody is pretty stressed out," said Francisco Brabo, a trainer at Canterbury who typically applies for 12 H-2B visa workers each year but got zero this year.
Brabo says he's tried hiring Americans without much success.
"When we let them know that it's a seven-day-a-week job and that we start somewhere around 4:30 in the morning and that we drug test, it discourages virtually everybody," said Brabo.
The national arm of the HBPA is also lobbying Congress to increase the number of temporary workers allowed into the U.S. from overseas.
Last month Congress gave the Homeland Security Secretary the power to more than double the number of H-2B visas allowed per year, according to a Washington Times article. So far Secretary Kelly has not yet gone through with re-expanding the program.
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