Lack of H-2B Visa Could Cripple the Seasonal Amusement Industry
With most of the U.S. thawing out from a harsh winter, Americans are looking forward to warm weather entertainment like trips to the amusement parks or carnivals. What people outside the industry don’t know is that some of these businesses may be unable to open or wholly understaffed thanks to changes by the government for the H-2B visa program.
“The H-2B visa program is a lifeline to many small and seasonal businesses that need temporary workers to keep their doors open and American workers employed”, says the H-2B Workforce Coalition.
The H-2B visa program allows foreign laborers to work jobs businesses cannot fill with domestic employees – typically due to the physicality of the work and a scarcity of willing workers. While the low unemployment rate is a sign of a good economy, it is also a sign that there are less unskilled laborers within the U.S. to fill positons at amusement parks and carnivals. Seasonal work is the first to suffer in a tight job market, as most workers prefer full-time, year-round roles.
The lack of domestic workers would typically be solved by H-2B visa holders; however, the Trump administration has greatly reduced the number of visas compared to previous years. In 2019, the cap for H-2B is 66,000. While that may seem like a large number, it is not nearly big enough to help fill positions and will cripple American-owned amusement businesses. Sixty percent of seasonal businesses were denied access to the visa program due to the arbitrary cap.
In February, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2019 was signed into law. Now the Appropriations Act, it allows DHS to grant almost 70,000 more H-2B visas, a saving grace for the amusement industry. This visa program may be small compared to the big picture of visas, but without it, hundreds of local small businesses that bring joy to American families will close. It is neither safe nor fiscally responsible for these carnivals and amusement parks to operate without proper staff in place, which is why filling jobs before the busy season is crucial.
The closure of carnivals and amusement parks hurts more than just summer fun; it has a trickle effect impacting other small businesses as well. Nonprofits that receive their revenue through carnival attendance will be hurt. Local utilities companies, as well as businesses that supply food, fuel and parts for traveling carnivals and amusement parks will also take an unexpected hit to their bottom line. Independent craft vendors will also be affected.
Without the released of additional H-2B visas, there is a bleak outlook for the amusement industry and their local communities. We urge DHS to release these granted additional visas to avoid business disruption.