Downhill Racing: Were Ski Visas Just a Snow Job After All?

Here’s a cool little story that didn’t get any play during the Democratic and Republican conventions that tirelessly trumpeted the benefits of immigration:

Colorado ski resorts are hiring young Americans for thousands of seasonal-work positions this winter.

After President Donald Trump’s June 22 executive order paused foreign-worker visas in response to the COVID-19 siege, ski resorts worried they would be unable to lure workers to their remote and often-pricey mountain communities, according to the Colorado Sun.

“Trying to fill positions without an international pool of applicants is a little concerning, but we think we can replace them domestically,” said Jim Laing, head of human resources for Aspen Skiing Co. “Our applications from college kids are up pretty significantly over prior years. We are targeting college-age applicants, but they seem to be targeting us as well.”

The Sun reported that Colorado resorts had become dependent on a steady stream of J-1 exchange visa workers from South America, Australia and New Zealand to staff ski schools, hotels and mountain operations. The J-1 Exchange Visitor Program annually accepted 300,000 workers from 200 countries, including 11,1331 in Colorado. 

“We’ve found interest among [U.S.] students who have more flexibility now due to [COVID-driven] online learning or deferring college attendance for a year. And our employees from prior seasons are also showing enthusiasm to return,” said Vail Resorts spokesman Ryan Huff.

Still, it’s not all fresh powder on the all-American slopes.

Several ski resorts have challenged Trump’s order in court, claiming they need ongoing access to foreign labor. The Lakewood, Colo.-based National Ski Areas Association told the Fort Morgan Times that operators routinely import ski instructors via H-2B visas, and they need them to keep coming.

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