Killington, Vermont, has been getting a lot of snow this winter. Actually, it's one of the better winters, which is sort of bittersweet because it's a pretty tough financial year, but we've gotten a lot of snow, so it's really been great.
That's Mike Solomonov, president of Killington Resort and PyCon Mountain. How long does your season run?
So Killington is known for having the longest season in the east. We typically open sometime in October with manmade snow making and then we try to run until sometime in May and sometimes even into June.
Wow. Yeah, it's surprising. In season, Mike needs over a thousand workers and every year he has a hard time finding enough. So Killington has to do what many companies across America do, bring in workers from abroad. But this year that's been nearly impossible because after the pandemic hit and unemployment skyrocketed, the Trump administration halted almost all new work visas, just signed an executive order, temporarily suspending immigration into the United States.
This will ensure that unemployed Americans of all backgrounds will be first in line for jobs as our economy.
But Americans didn't line up for those jobs. And without foreign workers, many businesses struggle. Welcome to the journal, our show about money, business and power. I'm Kate Leimbach. It's Friday, February 19th. Coming up on the show, how banning workers from abroad hurt American businesses. This episode of the Journal is brought to you by the new Love Your Car Guarantee from CarMax, featuring 24 hour test drives and a 30 day money back guarantee up to 1500 miles.
Learn more at CarMax Dotcom. Welcome to the two thousand four hundred twenty one. You say they're going to resort to chicken with operation, stay safe for the most out of your day on the mountain.
Skiers are still going up the mountain at Killington, but they're not booting up at the lodge.
First things first up, your car instead of the lodge.
Killington has had to scale back its operations this season. But it's not just because of covid. Mike says the federal ban on work visas has also hurt business.
So we've basically focused on running lifts, grooming, snow, making kind of the core part of our business. And we've shied away from a lot of the indoor food and beverage bar, all those types of activities. So we've really cut back on what we're offering. It's a combination of not having the staff to do that and also not having the demand and having a lot of covid restrictions in a typical year.
Mike brings about 200 foreigners to Vermont on work visas, and to do so, he has to jump through a lot of hoops.
If we want to bring in an international worker, we need to prove to the federal government that we have a need. So we actually get the prevailing wage from the federal government and they tell us what the rate is that we need to pay. And we go out and actually market in our community and in the state that we have this job say it's snowmaking and we say we're going to pay 14 dollars an hour for snowmaking. We try to hire locally and we need to prove that we've advertised locally.
And then once we've shown that we're not able to hire all the positions, then we're able to go out of country to get these workers.
Mike says this whole process gives him confidence that Americans are first in line for the jobs at his resort.
This group of international workers is not taking local jobs. I know that's the easy thing. And it makes sense to people that, of course, they're taking local jobs. But my point is, in a normal year midwinter, we still have about 10 to 20 percent of our positions unfilled.
Even after bringing in international workers to fill some of that gap, Killington hires foreigners through the H2B and J1 visa programs.
Both visas allow people to work in the U.S. for a limited time. And both of these visas were part of Trump's ban last June. Our colleague Alicia Caldwell, who covers immigration, says Trump's reasons for the ban were twofold.
One, President Trump at the time said, we've got this covered thing. We can't let new folks in keep the covid out of the country. And then second, the economy. Unemployment was skyrocketing in those early days of the pandemic. So the goal was to get jobs for Americans and keep out covid.
How did this fit into the Trump administration's broader effort to curb immigration to the U.S.? I mean, it is part and parcel, right? So the Trump administration made no secret of at least in terms of illegal immigration or irregular migration. They wanted none of it. They did everything they could to shut down the borders, shut down asylum and so on. But they also want to crack down on illegal immigration. There was a big effort within the administration to focus again on America first American jobs, first, buy American and push employers to only hire American.
Alicia's been tracking down what impact the ban on work visas has had on American businesses that need workers. How much has this ban caused work visa numbers to drop dramatically, 90 percent in some categories.
Eighty five percent. I think in others I'm trying to pull up. I am nerd's going to nerd nerd out girl jay ones.
They dropped about 88 percent from June through December compared to a year ago.
H-1B visas were down 94 percent. Those are all your high tech workers.
As Alisha notes, there are many types of visas and many rules for them ones or the intercompany transfers.
Generally, you're here for a couple of years once there's a start date and an end date. Same with the seasonal non agriculture age BS. So those are your landscapers, your hotel cleaning crews and so on. Agriculture workers, again, finite period. And you also have to go home for a period. You get your visa and you transfer schools or you continue your education or what have you. You know, there's other work categories that are super specialized visas, athlete visas and so on.
It's like alphabet soup. It is. There's 30 some odd 40 some odd categories of visas. Trump's ban had some exceptions. People who had already applied and were approved were still able to come. And the ban didn't apply to people whose entry was deemed necessary in the national interest, like agricultural workers.
But still, the ban was big and included seasonal workers like it. Killington, some student visas and H-1B visas, which may be the most sought out part of that alphabet soup.
They're primarily tech visas, and that's the sort of gold visa, if you will, the most coveted. We just don't have historically enough STEM trained American college kids or kids with the right skill set coming out of school every year.
The US typically grants eighty five thousand new H-1B visas. That's a huge source of talent for the tech sector especially. One of the companies that needed some of those visas is a company called Seven Tablets and IT firm in Dallas.
I talked to Kishore COUNTERVAIL. He's a chief executive. He wanted to expand his business. He wanted to hire 10 folks to bring into the US and work on projects. But he couldn't do it. And he just couldn't find the folks with the right skill set to bring in the way he was able to do overseas. So they opened an office in India. So because they couldn't get the 10 H-1B visas, they outsourced those jobs. They did. Did he look for Americans to fill them?
He did. He said he looked pretty aggressively. He was frustrated, frustrated with the pandemic, frustrated with the lack of visas. They want to grow their American business, but they hit this wall.
How did the seven tablet CEO feel about this change to his business?
The way he described it to me? This was not his ideal move. He didn't necessarily want to do this. It was a I have to do this. And it became very obvious with the restrictions that he wasn't going to be able to bring in his H-1B. Less than a year into the ban on work visas, companies like seven tablets have made permanent changes to their businesses because they couldn't get foreign workers and the visa ban is having other unintended consequences.
That's after the break. This episode of the Journal is brought to you by CarMax, finding the right car takes time. And with the new love your car guarantee from CarMax, you can take your time to make sure you found the perfect car for you, starting with a 24 hour test drive. Drive it to work school and the grocery store before you buy. And if it feels right, you've got a full month and 1500 miles to keep on driving with their new 30 day money back guarantee.
Learn more about the new love your car guarantee at CarMax Dotcom. Maury's peer's is a family owned amusement park in Wildwood, New Jersey. Welcome to Wildeblood, home to Maury's peers, three years old, with action packed rides.
Denise Beckman is a vice president and Maury's peers, and she's in charge of getting enough staff for the season.
I often equate the seasonal business to scuba diving. You know, you fill up your oxygen tank and you have to do your whole trip with that and a seasonal business. We make our money in a few months and we have to sustain over the winter and sustain our full time staff, generate as much revenue as you can to survive the winter.
Yes, our CEO said very early into this thing, it was not about the summer of twenty twenty. It was about getting to May of 20. 21 was about being able to sustain ourselves through the winter and get through to next season.
But Denise says even getting through summer 20 20 was hard, in part because of the worker visa ban.
Denise usually hires 500 exchange students on JWAN visas, but last summer she could only hire a fraction of that.
Luckily, we were able to hire and host 90 international students on the Bridge USA program last year from our typical five hundred. So quite a decrease.
We knew that without those students we would not fill our positions.
Our local high school graduates 50 kids a year so I could hire all of them, their siblings, their parents, and still not get to fifteen hundred. So we just are in a remote area with not a huge labor pool and we really need folks to come from other areas to supplement our workforce.
Last summer, Maury's peers needed those workers more than ever because of restrictions on travel abroad.
Denise says they got a lot of visitors, but staff shortages meant they struggled to keep up with demand. And it wasn't for lack of trying.
Our full time staff came outside to work, so the jobs and duties that they need to do typically inside had to wait. Our group sales director was running a ride. All of our sales team actually was out running rides. Our CFO was selling tickets. Our CEO was on the ride some nights and bussing tables at times.
What about you? Food, food and beverage.
What were you serving? I make a mean French fry.
Oh, man, that sounds so good.
And even with all hands on deck, it wasn't enough, we did have to do some layoffs, we had some position eliminations, some folks who went to part time work, which was difficult for everyone and not a position, you know, that we enjoy being in and not one that we had been in before.
And we hope to never repeat, if you had these seasonal workers, do you think you would have had to lay off as many full time employees as you did? If we were able to have more of our summer work travel students, we would have been able to keep more folks on over the winter months for sure.
So at Maury's peers, the loss of foreign workers didn't give American citizens more jobs as Trump had hoped. It may have actually done the opposite. And looking ahead to this summer, Denise hopes the Biden administration will lift the ban on worker visas to prevent more jobs from being lost.
We really need it to be rescinded because now is when students are looking for what they're going to do for their summer planning. If they need to get visas, that all needs to be starting now. Additionally, we're hopeful that these visas could be prioritized. Currently, there's a prioritization for visas that are considered in national interest. And we would be hopeful that we could get the visa included in that because it is vital for our tourism areas to be able to operate this summer.
And we want to be able to have as productive and successful a summer as we possibly can for our year round career folks who this is their livelihood, Moray's peers, vital to the national interest?
Well, tourism vital to the national economy.
We all need a good summer after this winter. Yes. Yes, for sure.
So we asked Alicia, our immigration reporter, did Trump's foreign worker ban achieve its goal? Did it save jobs for Americans? No.
As one immigration expert who studies the economic impacts put it, if this was an experiment for last year, it would be a failed experiment and the subjects of that experiment would not have fared well.
What's the Biden administration's position on foreign work visas?
We don't know yet. I think we can say the Biden administration has a much different policy overall on immigration, supports immigration, is moving forward to push an immigration reform bill in Congress that could include some work visa issues. We'll see what happens. But the idea that Biden wouldn't reverse this or let it lapse seems a little bit implausible to me.
So looking at this ban on work visas, it came at a time when unemployment was so high and yet these businesses still couldn't attract American workers.
What does that say to you? The old adage was, if you give Americans the chance to take these jobs that are taken by foreigners, they'll gobble them up and you won't need foreign workers. Well, it turns out that's not true. That's all for today, Friday, February 19th. The Journal is a co-production of Gimblett and The Wall Street Journal. Your hosts are Ryan Knutson and me, Kate Limor.
The show's produced by Katherine Brewer, Gerard Cole, Pia Gadkari, Annie Benoff, Laura Morris, Afif Nosily, Ricky Novitsky, Enrique Perez, Sarah Platt, Willa Ruben, Annie Ross Strasser and Rob Zipcode. Our engineers are Griffin Tanner and Nathan Singapore. Our theme music is by so widely additional music this week from Katherine Anderson, Billy Libby, Bobby Lorde, Emma Mongar, Peter Leonard and Blue Dot Sessions, Fact Checking by Nicole Kasota.
Thanks for listening. See you Monday. A couple in Minnesota changed the way they farmed. It's now way more profitable. They use less pesticides and they're capturing carbon. They look at their fields and see a beautiful climate solution. But their neighbors, they say it was really miss.
Her great aunt walked it up to us and said, oh, it's the lazy farmers doing how being a lazy farmer can help the climate listen to soil. The dirty climate solution on the podcast, How to Save a Planet. Follow and listen for free on Spotify.