Par for the Course: Employers Scrambling to Find Seasonal Workers
The demand for seasonal employees continues to outpace the number of H-2B visas available to fill temporary jobs.
The federal government annually caps the number of visas at 66,000, which poses a challenge to employers, like restaurants and hotels, seeking to fill positions during the busy tourist season.
The restriction is also being felt on golf courses.
Jonathan Collins has been maintaining fairways and putting greens for more than two decades. For the last five of those years, he’s been at Maggie Valley Club. He’s even recruited his Australian shepherd Calley -- named after golf equipment maker Callaway -- who helps him chase geese off the course.
Usually around this time of year, his department is fully staffed, as golf season tees off. But the company Collins usually contracts with to staff seasonal workers was denied visas. So now, he’s scrambling to fill positions.
“Even though I’m looking to pay them a good rate, it’s hard to find folks who want to work from April and know their job is going to end in the end of October,” Collins said.
And he’s not alone. Golf courses across the country are struggling to fill jobs.
Congress caps the number of H-2B visas at 66,000 annually — evenly split between the winter and summer seasons. This past January, when 33,000 visas were made available, nearly 100,000 employers accessed the application online, causing the Labor Department's site to crash.
Robert Helland is the director of congressional and federal affairs for the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, which represents private and municipal courses across the country.
“A lot of the facilities that we represent have been in their communities for more than 100 years or so,” Helland said. “They’re fighting to find the people they need. For those who don’t, I point out 4.64 American jobs.”
Helland is referring to a 2011 economic impact study that looked at the effects of immigration on wages and employment in the US. It’s one of several that counter the claim that foreign-born workers “steal” jobs from Americans.
“So it’s not just the position at the course that’s getting filled, it’s all the other jobs that are there, that are many times full time, and are dependent on those other workers to keep their jobs afloat too,” Helland said.
BPR reached out to dozens of golf courses in the region, but calls to supervisors went unreturned or those who answered denied to comment, citing the political climate. Biltmore, which maintains two hotel properties, would only confirm that certain departments have been affected, including housekeeping and laundry.
“We continue to aggressively recruit for these open positions locally, but we have many openings that are unfilled year-round. The impact of the cap has definitely reduced our pool of potential candidates,” a Biltmore spokesperson said in an email.
The recent cap even applies to workers who had already been cleared to work seasonally in previous years. That was the case for Jonathan Collins. He says some of his seasonal employees are the same individuals who have been coming back year-after-year -- even before he started at Maggie Valley.
“They’re guys that, they love what they do, and they take pride in what they do. That’s hard to find,” Collins said.
Collins is posting about the open positions -- which pay $12.50 an hour -- on Facebook and Craigslist. But he says he’s also coming to terms with the fact that parts of the 70-acre course might be overgrown this year.
“And yeah golf is, to a lot of folks, it’s probably not that important. To me it’s my livelihood. If I don’t have this golf course the way they expect it, it’s my livelihood and it’s all I’ve ever done.”
He adds, not to mention the workers who depend on their seasonal jobs to support themselves and their families.
Meantime, the GCSAA is planning to lobby on May 1, National Golf Day, to urge Congress for more H-2B workers. Helland says they’re thankful to have a golf course owner in the White House.
Editor's Note: the broadcast version of this story incorrectly reported Robert Helland's last name as "Kelland." The web text has been corrected.