Ask the Expert: Seasonal Staffing Discussion with a Focus on H-2B and J-1 Visas

    As the hospitality industry continues its post-pandemic recovery, staffing has emerged as one of the biggest challenges. With competition growing for existing talent in the U.S., many properties are considering bringing on international staff, especially to manage times of higher occupancy during summer tourist season and holidays. While international staffing offers hiring managers a significantly larger talent pool, hiring international workers also involves special considerations related to immigration and employment law.

    In this first installment of a three-part series, immigration attorney Keith Pabian answers some common questions hospitality organizations need to consider when thinking about employing international workers. Future installments will cover more complex issues as well as recruiting.

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    Q: Can you describe the advantage of utilizing international workers?

    A: The biggest advantage is the ability to find workers willing and excited to perform crucial jobs at your organization. Staffing is one of the—if not the—largest crises facing the hospitality industry. Employing international workers not only can help solve this problem, it can introduce diverse cultures into your organization that can deliver a unique and welcome experience for guests and colleagues.

    Q: Can you describe the challenges in utilizing international workers?

    A: While international workers can solve staffing challenges, there are also some things to be aware of if you go this route. First, you need to make sure that you leave time to go through the application and international staffing process. These processes can take up to six months (for H-2B visas), so you need to plan and think ahead. Those that employ international workers are also agreeing to several legal obligations under U.S. immigration laws. It is important to know your organization’s legal requirements and ensure that you are meeting them at all times prior to, during, and after the workers’ employment.

    Q: Please explain the two types of visas available to the hospitality industry.

    A: The two visas primarily used in the hospitality industry are the H-2B and J-1 visas. The H-2B visa was created to allow seasonal organizations to employ workers in roles for up to 10 months of the year. It is a great visa to staff many roles in California destinations with significant seasonal peaks in summer or winter. The process goes through the employer, so this is a financial and workflow undertaking for the petitioning organization. In California, the H-2B visa would work incredibly well for so many, but is currently being underutilized as a staffing solution.

    The other visa is the J-1 visa. This visa was created to allow recent graduates to come to the U.S. to further their learning in their fields of study. The two sub-types of J-1 visas that we see in the hospitality visa is the intern visa (available for up to 18 months with job rotations mandated about every three months) or the summer work and travel visa (available for up to four months).

    Q: What is the timeline to keep in mind when determining if international workers could benefit your property?

    A: It’s highly recommended that you analyze your staffing needs about six months in advance of when you need workers. This will allow you to apply for H-2B and/or J-1 visa while not missing any deadlines. It is also imperative to understand when to start recruiting and to have avenues to find international workers. My company, Seasonal Connect, provides a software platform to assist with the recruiting side of the process.

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