A strange year for Aspen job seekers
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” Some of them are heading elsewhere. Some are giving up and going home.
And for the scores of new foreign arrivals carrying J1 student work visas who plan to stick around in Aspen, the clock is ticking.
Unlike in recent years, when seasonal workers arrived in Aspen to find a bounty of jobs, the global economic downturn has turned the local job market into a cruel scavenger hunt.
Local retailers and restaurateurs have been inundated by roving packs of visa-carrying seasonal visitors looking for work, and some businesses in Snowmass Village and Aspen have resorted to putting up signs reading “Not Hiring.”
Between Friday and Tuesday, nearly 300 foreign students showed up at Little Annie’s inquiring about jobs, said Rick Meyer, the restaurant’s bar manager.
“It was overwhelming,” Meyer said. “Right now we’ve got a full staff, but [Wednesday] there were still tons coming in. And they come in like six at a time. We were giving out applications and they were taking up our tables to fill them out.”
April Brooks, a manager at local skate and snowboard retailer Polar Revolution, said there’s been a steady flow of about five to six foreigners showing up at the store for the past two weeks.
“As soon as they walk in you can tell,” Brooks said. “So many people have been telling them no, that sometimes you don’t have to say anything. They just know immediately, just by looking at your expression.”
At the Aspen branch of the Pitkin County Library, the frustration is evident on the faces of visiting students with J1 visas from Argentina and Brazil who came to Aspen on the assumption that work would be easy to find.
The visas allow students to work in the U.S. for up to three months, provided they land a job within 30 days of their arrival. Some employers like the Aspen Skiing Co. sponsor the visas, but there are also numerous other sponsorship programs that help students secure visas, allowing them to find work on their own.
Juana Levene, 23, of Buenos Aires, Argentina, lined up a job with the Aspen Skiing Co. before arriving in Aspen, but said that some of her friends had contracts with other valley employers, only to arrive in Aspen and find out those contracts weren’t being honored. She didn’t specify which local businesses weren’t sticking to an agreement.
“It’s tough when you come here and then they say no, it’s no longer good,” she said.
Francisco Mabae, 22, of Buenos Aires, planned to start looking for work Thursday after arriving in town two days earlier, but he was already well aware of what he was up against.
“I see people who [started] looking 10 days ago and they don’t get a job,” said Mabae, who is currently sleeping in a one-bedroom apartment with 17 other Argentinians.
Levene said some of her friends were discouraged, but they had not given up hope yet that jobs would open up in the coming weeks.
Paula Simoni, 22, of Cape Town, South Africa, found work at a local retail store on the Hyman Avenue mall, but mentioned that two of her friends had already left town. One headed to New York City, but couldn’t find work there, either, and planned to head to London; Simoni’s roomate opted to go home.
Two other friends who were looking for work in Utah decided to head to Colorado after not finding anything. One ended up in Aspen, while another is in Vail.
Mabae, for one, seemed willing to do anything to stay in Aspen.
“Here’s my new number,” he said, passing off a sticky note. “If you know anybody who has any work, tell them to call me.”
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Cam Daniel is a former youth addiction counselor who’s been a Pitkin County sheriff’s deputy for three years.