Cap on program will be cause of worry going forward

By Jeff Smith

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At his hotels in the area, Shane Schriner said that local people work in management, at the front desk and as breakfast attendants.

Still, H-2B workers needed for housekeeping and laundry service. When Schriner advertised for help this past year he only received four applicants. In order to operate, 42 foreign workers are needed in his hotels.

Businesses in Hill City are not trying to get around hiring Americans. American workers are in the shops, restaurants and hotels.

The problem is that there’s never enough people to help, even with the foreign workers programs.

Americans want full-time work and it’s not possible because many area businesses,  like Krull’s Market, only receives a quarter of the business in January that it has in July.  Jason Peters,  president of the Hill City Area Chamber of Commerce board who has owned Krull’s Market,  said sales tax in the area is never going to grow without having H-2B and J-1 visa workers.

These are people that come in to help throughout the season to work long hours for low wages. It’s almost impossible to hire enough locals. 

Peters has heard that a lot of campgrounds couldn’t take care of customers this past summer because of a lack of help.

“I can tell you first-hand that we lost sales by not having help,” Peters said.

Some of the restaurants had to close down in September or October in Hill City because of the lack of help.

There are 66,000 H-2B visas that are allotted every fiscal year in the United States. Returning workers have usually been able to come back without being counted against the cap. However, the exemption for that hasn’t been renewed since it expired in 2016.

Many have blamed Congressional ineffectiveness for the cap not being raised and reauthorizing the program for returning workers to not count against the cap. This past summer the cap was lifted but as it was in July when businesses have already started the season. The foreign workers can be in the U.S. up to three years. They can only work for up to six months at a particular place of employment.

After three years the workers have to go back to the U.S. for a period of at least three months.

They get to know other people that been working in establishments and that can have a great influence on where people apply. In a way, businesses in Hill City and Keystone are competing against businesses or other places across the U.S.

The cap creates problems because not enough people are around to fill gaps. Schriner, who owns Holiday Inn, Best Western Golden Spike Inn & Suites and  Comfort Inn in Hill City wasn’t as affected by the cap last summer and he’s hoping it can work out again.

“Our biggest concern is if it will still be available,” Schriner said about the program.

As far as the exemption goes he believes it was around 140,000 H-2B workers that wouldn’t be counted against the cap that were last year.

A lot of his H-2B employees have worked in the hotels for 12-13 years. The longest returning employee has worked in Hill City for 16 years.

“It works great for them and for us,” Schriner said.

When their time is up, Schriner said they go back home and spend time with family.

The Schriner’s have been in the area for awhile but they didn’t utilize the H-2B program until 2001. Schriner said they only had a couple of small hotels at that time but it was incredibly hard to find help.

Schriner said other workers might only stay for a few weeks and leave but foreign workers are here primarily to work.

“The more work they get the better,” Schriner said.

But he also said it’s like a work family. They hear about the worker’s children graduating and how their other aspects of life are.

Unfortunately, the goals of the program get lost in the national debate because of politics.

President Donald Trump uses the H-2B program himself and Jason Peters said it’s hypocritical for him not to not back the program. At Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., hundreds of foreign guest workers have positions at the club, according to the New York Times.

Doug Peters, who owns the Best Western Plains Motel in Wall, uses the J-1 program and the H-2B program. He  owned the Best Western Golden Spike restaurant and hotel in Hill City for over 30 years.

“Over the years, foreign workers have been a great asset to the Hill City community,” Peters said.

One thing Peters points out to everybody is that both the programs are not a money saving strategy.

“It costs quite a more to use a H-2B worker than it does to hire local people,” Peters said.

For years, people thought people were doing the program to save money. For each certification in the businesses it costs $1,600. A lot of places spend upwards of $4,000 or more to get certifications for each position. In order to get workers from other countries there are petitions that have to be in place at least 60 days before they are needed. Petitions can cost up to $1,000.

An agency usually has to be hired to help with the process too.  It can take several months for businesses to get certified. It also has to be done every year.  Bigger businesses have someone work on getting workers lined up for the future as a full-time job.

Once everything goes through there is an interview process which takes time, too.  The applicants go through background checks and employers have to pay travel expenses and housing expenses.

Peters said employers put ads in newspapers first to show that there is need for help. Last year, only one American applied for a job at the Best Western Plains Motel that was advertised.

Peters said the workers are not granted any kind of privilege or right. They are just granted a visa to work.

“They have taxes withheld just like everyone,” Peters said.

Their social security tax is withheld which is matched by the employer. But unlike American citizens the government doesn’t give them back social security funds.

Peters said the workers are friendly with the local youth and people that have been to restaurants in Hill City have known at least a foreign worker or two.

A lot of the foreign workers have worked on cruise ships or other businesses and they have gained valuable experience that they can pass onto local students. Peters’ own children have made friends from all over the world because of the program.

“Any business willing to spend money and time don’t get dishonest employees,” Peters said.

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