So how do they get here?
By Jeanne McGovernAspen Times Staff WriterIn the heart of the winter season, the Aspen Skiing Co. employs close to 3,500 people. Some, like the company’s top brass, hold year-round positions. Others, like ski instructors and ski patrollers, are rehired seasonally. Still, some 1,000 new employees must be hired every year.”And that’s a lot of people,” notes Jim Laing, Skico vice president of human resources.To keep the resort running smoothly, the Skico – like many other local businesses – has had to turn to foreigners; there just aren’t enough Americans interested in the jobs.”It’s not like we say ‘Let’s go get international employees,'” explains Laing. “If we could fill the positions domestically, we would.”And by law, they must.According to the U.S. Department of Labor, visas for foreign workers “may be obtained in cases where it can be demonstrated that there are insufficient qualified U.S. workers available and willing to perform the work at wages that meet or exceed the prevailing wage paid for the occupation in the area of intended employment.”According to Laing, this is exactly the case when it comes to seasonal jobs like lift operators and restaurant workers. So each winter for the past six or seven years, the Skico has brought to Aspen approximately 300 foreign workers.”First we have to demonstrate the need, which is based on our inability to fill the positions locally or domestically” says Laing. The Skico determines this by advertising positions for the following ski season at the end of the current one. On May 1, the company begins accepting applications from abroad. “The big myth is that it’s cheaper to bring in foreign workers,” says Laing. “In reality, it’s more expensive. We pay the same competitive wage to all employees, regardless of where they are from. In the case of foreign workers, we also pay the administrative costs of getting them over here.”In fact, getting permission for a foreigner to work the winter in Aspen is a “complex process,” according to both Laing and the labor department.According to the labor department’s website, foreigners can live and work in the United States through six different types of visas; students can also get permission to study and/or intern here. Some visas allow for long-term employment, such as an H-1B visa for “specialty,” or professional, workers. Seasonal employees, like those the Skico hires, generally come to the States on two different types of visas: H-2B and J-1. H-2B visas “permit employers to hire foreign workers to come to the U.S. and perform temporary nonagricultural work, which may be one-time, seasonal, peak load or intermittent”; they are generally good for the duration of the ski season. To get this type of visa, a person must already have a job in place. In fact, the Skico must actually match a specific person with a specific job before it can secure the visa.J-1 visas are limited to students ages 19-30; they are good for four months of work and one month of travel. Unlike H-2B visas, a person applies for this visa themselves and then seeks work. The Skico uses a sort of middleman, a company called CCUSA, to process the applications.Approximately 200 foreigners are employed by the Skico using H-2B visas; another 100 come on J-1 visas. They work as child-care attendants, lift operators, skier services personnel, retail clerks, cafeteria servers and more. They hail from 20 different countries, with places like Argentina and Chile, Australia and New Zealand providing the majority.”I think it’s often the case that we develop a relationship with an employee and he tells his friends and relatives, who then apply and tell their friends and relatives,” Laing said. It’s a trend Laing doesn’t see changing any time soon.”At this point, we certainly anticipate the program continuing to be strong,” he says. “I don’t see any reason, looking at the current business climate, why would be able to fill all the positions domestically.”And, to be perfectly honest, that pleases the Skico.”We love it. These are great people who bring a lot of life to the resort,” Laing says. “Plus, our employees mirror our guests, demographically, which we think is great.”Jeanne McGovern’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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