The demand for guest workers is up, which has left businesses on Mackinac Island scrambling to find employees.
The Department of Homeland Security’s H-2B Visa program brings in guest workers to fill jobs that were originally offered for Americans, but were never filled.
Employers across the country, including on Mackinac Island have been using the program since it’s inception in 1952. However recently, a lot more employers are now using the program.
Last year, there was a 49.5% increase in employers requesting guest workers through the program, but the cap on workers accepted through the program hasn’t changed since the 1990s. This has led to positions on Mackinac Island to go unfilled.
“We’re not the only ones that know that this is a great system especially in the hospitality business. So, a lot more employers are entering the pool with a very limited number of visas,” Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau’s Executive Director, Tim Hygh explains.
With the season on Mackinac Island running from April to November businesses can’t solely rely on employing college students.
According to the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau, about 5,000 employees are needed to staff positions on the island, and out of that, over 1,000 are needed from the H-2B program.
“With 25% of the workforce coming from this program that’s how we’re able to win the best summer destination recognition,” Hygh states.
Businesses on Mackinac Island feel they’ve gotten the short end of the stick as they’ve requested 1,183 visas, but are expecting to get much less than that.
Todd Callewaert, owns businesses all over the island and has been using the program since the 1990′s. Callewaert says it’s always been a frustrating process, but especially more recently.
“We basically got 33% of what we asked for from the program,” Callewaert reports.
Callewaert says he tries to fill the holes with transfers from out of state and college students, but sometimes isn’t always able to find enough employees.
Businesses have been visiting with leaders in Washington to try and get the program expanded, something they say will make Mackinac Island an even greater place to visit.
“If the cap would go away and they would increase the number of visa employees that we could get on Mackinac Island,” Hygh says. “The product would improve exponentially.”