Can the Amusement H-2B Visa Solve the Labor Shortage for Theme Parks?
Labor shortages currently plague many industries across the country, but the challenges facing the amusement sector are unique. These challenges can be traced back to the spread of COVID-19, which shuttered many theme parks and caused furloughs. Many staff members did not return. Furthermore, restrictions on immigration and temporary foreign labor exacerbated the shortages, which the amusement industry relies on. The solution for the amusement industry may come in the form of H-2B visas.
Demand for theme parks, carnivals, and other attractions is high, with crowds already at pre-pandemic levels. However, insufficient staffing has forced many parks to reduce hours, postpone season openings, or even reduce the number of days they are open to the public.
Park owners are understandably searching for solutions to the labor gap. Theme parks may consider employees with H-2B visas, which are given to non-immigrant, seasonal laborers. In other words, people who want to work in the U.S., but do not want to become residents. Recently, immigration restrictions have expired and the cap for the total number of H-2B visa recipients has increased.
In the past, the amusement industry has relied heavily on the H-2B visa program, in addition to the J-1 (or student visa) program. But each program has definitive benefits and drawbacks. In this blog, we will examine the pros and cons of the amusement H-2B visa and briefly touch on the differences between H-2B and J-1 visas.
The benefits of utilizing amusement H-2B visas
H-2B visa workers have long been the backbone of the amusement industry. And for good reason. H-2B visas offer a legal way for foreigners to live and work in the U.S. The H-2B labor force has proved to be a dependable source of ongoing employment. Enough visa recipients return year after year that the Department of Homeland Security recently expanded the cap by 20,000 to create space for new employees, 13,500 of which are reserved for returning workers.
It can be difficult to find domestic workers (especially in the current climate of the Great Resignation) willing to take on seasonal positions. Whereas, amusement H-2B workers live in housing provided by the employer and often enjoy favorable currency exchange rates, given the strength of the U.S. dollar.
Also read: Special Insurance Basics for the Amusement Industry
The downsides of H-2B visas
Despite industry reliance on amusement H-2B visas and the program’s benefits, there are considerable drawbacks. The most significant downside is the upfront expense. Through the program, employers are required to pay for employees’ visas, travel expenses, and lodging.
Another drawback is uncertainty of labor availability. Returning H-2B visa holders are usually able to re-enter the country each season without issue, but new applicants rely on a lottery system imposed by the government. This lottery applies to employees (applicants that are selected to receive visas) and to employers (the number of H-2B employees they are eligible to hire each season). Factor in the changing cap on the number of H-2B workers and changing immigration restrictions, and it can be difficult for park owners to plan ahead for the season.
Also read: Why Developing an Effective Employee Training Program is Beneficials for Fairs and Carnivals
J-1 versus H-2B visa
J-1 visas are intended for “cultural exchange.” These visas are traditionally reserved for students, with some exceptions. There are J-1 programs for employment opportunities ranging from physicians to camp counselors to amusement park workers. However, there are a few quirks to the program that can make it untenable for park owners in the long run.
J-1 visa holders can only remain in the country as long as they are students, or their exchange program allows it. Additionally, changing visa types—for example, switching from a J-1 to a H-2B visa—may trigger the “two-year rule.” This rule states that anyone who changes visa types must return to their country of origin for two years. It is possible to attain a waiver for this rule. However, in the amusement industry, sticking with the H-2B visa might be a more reliable solution for park owners wishing to build a stable workforce.
Visas are complicated and sometimes have shifting requirements for the employer and employee. Amusement industry managers might find value in consulting with immigration lawyers and other experts when making the decision of what type of visa hires to pursue.
Also read: 5 Considerations for Strong Leadership in the Amusement Industry
Preparing for the unexpected
Labor shortages are causing park owners to take drastic steps, such as cutting hours or offering new incentives to their staff. The H-2B program, a long-time means of securing laborers in the industry, offers valuable solutions to the labor gap but brings with it a good measure of uncertainty.
McGowan Allied Specialty Insurance can help you prepare for the unexpected by getting the proper insurance coverage. McGowan has over 35 years of experience insuring theme parks, waterparks, carnivals, and other attractions, offering a wide range of coverage options.
Partnering with McGowan promises exceptional, long-lasting service and insurance coverage you and depend on.