For owner Brenda O’Shea, a great summer at A Western Rose Motel requires a certain factor, no matter how many guests it receives: employees.
âWithout them I have to either close some of my inventory or the few employees I have burn them to the point of having to leave,â she said.
Although their customers have come back with a vengeance after a slight slowdown in 2020, local hotel and motel owners are not out of the woods just yet. The supply of H-2B and J-1 visa workers, a pool that many Cody business owners draw from, is still very small and, for some owners, not available at all.
âI know I’m not the only seasonal business taking on this challenge,â O’Shea said. “Hotel rooms are going to be unsold due to labor shortages and rising labor costs.”
The purpose of J-1 and H-2B workers is to bridge the gaps between foreign countries and American communities and fill hard-to-find jobs for resident workers. In 2020, their presence was lacking as no J-1 workers were allowed and around 32% fewer H-2B workers were allowed in due to coronavirus concerns.
The H-2B workers are available this year, but their approval came in a delayed and hesitant way, causing backlogs of immigrant visas, according to the US State Department’s Office of Consular Affairs.
From June 2020 to March 31, former President Donald Trump had banned the entry of all new H-2B individuals with a few exceptions. Despite this, the U.S. Department of Labor reported the highest rate of unfilled H-2B jobs by U.S. workers in 2020 of any year on record.
President Joe Biden’s administration authorized the expiration of Trump’s suspension of workers on H-2B visas on March 31.
In mid-April, the Ministry of Labor announced that it would raise the cap on seasonal visas from 66,000 to 88,000 for the second half of fiscal year 2021. On May 25, the decision took effect.
Additional visas include 16,000 visas available only for H-2B workers returning from fiscal years 2018, 2019 or 2020, and 6,000 remaining visas for residents of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Employers who claim they are likely to suffer irreparable harm if they cannot employ more H-2B workers by the end of the fiscal year can apply to the DOL.
Bill Garlow, owner of the Cody Best Western, said he had historically employed H-2B workers from Jamaica.
âThey are really good people,â he said.
This year he’s been guaranteed 17 H-2B workers, but he’s still waiting to see if he’ll get any of the 23 he’s asked for.
âWe really need them,â he said. âWe are in a very difficult situation if I do not understand them. “
D-1 workers, a cheaper option for businesses, are an even rarer commodity this summer not only in Cody but across the country.
A major obstacle to those interested in these positions has been the lack of access to foreign embassies to obtain the necessary J-1 visa. Embassies in some countries have limited hours or are always closed due to the virus. O’Shea said he was told there were around 7,000 applicants from Turkey alone waiting to come.
âI sent a message to the (US) Ambassador to Turkey urging his office to get back to work,â O’Shea said. âOn the Ambassador’s Facebook page, there was an article about a ranger exchange program. I don’t mean to say it’s not important, but how come there is a ranger exchange program, but we can’t get the people we need to work? “
There are travel restrictions for people coming from 33 different countries, including China, the usual source of O’Shea’s J-1 employees. She said she could receive workers from Mongolia, but she doesn’t hold her breath.
J-1 employees who worked in America in 2019 or interviewed for work in 2020 are however eligible to work this summer if they are not from one of the 33 restricted countries.
Kings Inn deputy manager Levi Helvey said they were able to secure a few J-1s for his hotel on the West Strip, but their arrival was delayed by about a month.
âEveryone has a hard time getting them,â he said.
While H-2B employees may be a better bet than J-1 employees, they also come at a cost.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the employer must either advance all visa, border crossing, and visa fees to H-2B workers and pay them directly, or reimburse all such fees during the first week of work. The employer must pay for return transportation and daily subsistence for any worker who works until the end of the work order or who is made redundant for any reason before the end of this period.
O’Shea said she couldn’t afford those costs and was not allowed to employ these workers anyway, as her business was only open in May.
âIt’s not something that a seasonal motel on a budget (can afford),â she said.
She said she was also frustrated with the complexity of the processes to get these foreign workers and expressed her frustrations during a recent meeting with the staff of U.S. Senator Cynthia Lummis.
With the pipeline of foreign workers sharply reduced, O’Shea, Helvey and Garlow turned their attention to local workers.
âCody is a town of almost 10,000 people,â O’Shea said. âKeep the elderly, children, students, whether in high school or college who are not working, professionals and those who work in the hotel industry all year round. That doesn’t leave a lot of people for seasonal businesses.
Garlow has raised wages and is offering a special promotion where employees will earn an additional $ 2 an hour that will go towards an end of season bonus, a total he estimates to range from $ 1,600 to $ 2,100 that can be traded in. September. He also says he can continue to offer a job during the offseason.
But he said his efforts have been thwarted by some companies offering higher base salaries to kitchen workers.
Many companies around Cody go out of their way to promote what they will pay their workers. The Comfort Inn, for example, has a prominent sign saying it will offer housekeeping a rate of $ 15 an hour.
O’Shea said she even turned to friends and family in other states to try to recruit workers, but to no avail. She promotes her motel jobs as entrepreneurial opportunities.
âYou can learn all about running your own business,â she said.
Even more frustrating for her, she has seen many locals express their interest in working, but only if she agrees to pay them illegally.
âIt’s really sad that we have to bring in people from another country because our own citizens are worried about the benefits they get from people who work and pay taxes,â O’Shea said.