Vail Resorts is staffed for winter despite ongoing availability issues with H-2B visas
International work visas for seasonal workers have been a consistent problem since a federal cap was put on H-2B visas, which are temporary visas for nonagricultural workers. But Vail Resorts — which owns and operates five Colorado resorts, including Breckenridge Ski Resort and Keystone Resort in Summit County — has found a way to deal with the cap and hire the right amount of seasonal workers.
In 2008, Vail Resorts aimed to bring 1,900 seasonal workers to its resorts through the H-2B visa program, but most of the visa requests were not granted. In 2009, the company announced it would be hiring fewer international seasonal workers due to the cap.
The H-2B cap was set in 2008 at 33,000 visas for the country for the winter season from Oct. 1 to March 31.
This year, Keystone Resort spokeswoman Loryn Roberson reported that Vail Resorts was approved for 100% of its H-2B requests for the winter prior to the national cap being reached. Vail Resorts has maintained that hiring international workers helps their international visitors feel more at home, which is one reason it likes to hire some of its workforce from outside of the U.S.
“Vail Resorts has a long history of hiring people from around the world as we value the diversity and culture this brings to our resorts,” Roberson wrote in an email.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reported in a news release that “Nov. 15 was the final receipt date for new cap-subject H-2B worker petitions requesting an employment start date before April 1, 2020.” The department rejects H-2B petitions received after this date for employment start dates before April 1, aside from certain exceptions.
Roberson added that the resorts are staffed appropriately for the winter, though they will continue to recruit for seasonal positions throughout the year.
Roberson said Vail Resorts was able to get the visas and workers it needed by starting early and moving toward less limited visas types.
“The process started in July, and we successfully completed the multiple steps required to obtain the authorizations,” Roberson wrote in an email. “In the last several years, we have shifted our hiring strategy because of the changes to the visa program that have made it more challenging for companies to get H-2B visas. We’ve slowly been moving away from using them, utilizing others visas like J-1 visas.”
The J-1 visa is described by the State Department as an “exchange visitor program.” There is no current federal cap on the program, which has more than 300,000 participants per year. There are 1,500 entities that can conduct private sector programs for exchange visitors, who can “study, teach, do research, share their specialized skills, or receive on-the-job training.”