Colorado’s unemployment rate continues to be one of the lowest in the country. While that may be good news to job seekers, some employers in the state are finding it more and more difficult to secure workers, especially for seasonal jobs.
A visa program called H-2B is supposed to help with that. Colorado is the second largest user of the H-2B visa program in the country, especially during the summer season when the hospitality and construction industries are the busiest.
But right now, there’s not enough visas available to meet the demand from companies across the country, let alone in Colorado.
What is an H-2B visa?
The U.S. awards H-2B visas to non-agricultural workers.
“That means roofers, concrete finishers, landscapers, maids,” and other hospitality workers, says Todd Ahl with the Windsor-based H-2B consulting firm Labor Solutions.
Ahl says that the program allows qualified businesses to bring foreign workers in for either the summer or winter season. 33,000 visas are available for each season, for a total of 66,000 per year for the entire country.
Why is there still a shortage of workers?
Ahl says the number of H-2B visas available isn’t enough.
As more U.S. workers are able to find permanent, full-time work, companies rely on visa programs like H-2B to fill out their labor force for short term projects.
In June Congress approved another 15,000 summer visas, for a total of 48,000. But according to Ahl, for the summer season alone, companies could have used 200,000 H2B visas.
What does that mean for companies that rely on H-2B?
The process for a company to apply for H-2B workers can cost thousands of dollars -- and filling out the paperwork and paying government fees doesn’t ensure the business will get those workers.
“If a company is denied the workers they need,” Ahl says, “it’s a domino effect. It affects their suppliers, it affects their clientele. It affects everyone upstream and downstream that has to do with the employers that utilize the program.”
Ahl adds that he doesn’t expect Congress to make any changes for the 2019 summer season, which starts April 1.
Are there other visa programs Colorado companies use?
In addition to H-2B visas, Colorado companies also seek workers who receive the H-1B and H-2A visas. H-1B is for skilled workers with a degree in their field, such as teachers, and H-2A is given to temporary agricultural workers.