No jobs for boys from Brazil in Summit County |

No jobs for boys from Brazil in Summit County

Daniela Martins and Bob Berwyn
Summit County, CO Colorado
Mark Fox/Summit DailyBrazilians Thadeu Bretas, left, and Joao Scalabrin talk with Deli Belly's owner Lisa Tousey while out applying for jobs in Frisco. Tousey said she has had as many as eight Brazilians a day coming in applying for jobs.

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado – Every day, Thadeu Bretas visits ski-rental shops and restaurants around Summit County, looking for work.

“I’m so tired of hearing: ‘I’m sorry, we are not hiring,'” said the 19-year-old student from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Like hundreds of Brazilians and other foreign students in the High Country, Bretas has found himself in the United States with a work visa but few opportunities in a down economy.

The throng of enthusiastic students arrived at the beginning of December, inspired by their friends, who, in previous years, reported spending less than a day job hunting before getting hired.

They came with many different goals: To make some money, improve their English, learn how to be a grown-up for four months and even just to have some fun.

But this year, what was supposed to be a work experience for many instead has become what they call a “trouble experience,” as their anticipated jobs with the ski resorts withered away.

Most of the Brazilian job-seekers are in the country on J-1 student visas, which expire March 15. The limited duration of their visas means that the few employers who have jobs available are discouraged from hiring workers who would have to leave in the middle of spring break.

Many paid at least $2,000 to their sponsors plus airfare from the port of entry in the United States and taxes and visa costs. From lives of relative affluence in Brazil, they are now humbled, desperate to take any job.

“They told me that this was the greatest place to find jobs,” said Joao Scalabrin from Rio de Janeiro. “I’m looking since December, and all that the employers say is that the situation is difficult because of the recession and to keep looking. That’s frustrating.”

In the United States since Dec. 7, he came to Summit County based on reports from friends that previously worked in the region.

Not just Summit

Similar circumstances prevail in Eagle County.

Frank Lilly, who owns a Copy Copy shop in Avon, said he was inundated with job applicants from South America.

And the Vail Daily reported that a number of South Americans arrived in Eagle County with the expectation of working for Specialty Sports Ventures, the sporting goods retailer owned partially by Vail Resorts.

At least four Chileans had letters from the company’s Avon store with employment offers that went as far as outlining hours and wages. When they arrived, however, a store manager told them the jobs were no longer available because of the economy.

“Why couldn’t he warn us? Because then we wouldn’t have come,” said Cristobal Maack, who was offered only a part-time job at the shop.

Specialty Sports Ventures did try to provide warning, said chief operating officer Kat Jobanputra.

A late-November e-mail to prospective employees warned of economic volatility and implied that hours previously agreed upon could be reduced, or that some jobs could be eliminated.

Some of the South Americans were under the impression that the jobs still would be available, albeit with reduced hours. In hindsight, Jobanputra acknowledged that communication could have been better.

Although Specialty Sports is partly owned by Vail Resorts, the hiring for the retail operation is completely separate from resort operations.

Vail Resorts spokeswoman Kelly Ladyga said human-resource managers from both companies have met to discuss the situation.

The ski company recruited 300 South American students to fill positions under the J1 visa program, which Ladyga said falls under a cultural-exchange category. She said only five of the positions were filled by applicants from Brazil.

“We suspect that there very well could be students from Brazil (through a third-party agency down there who helped them to secure a visa) who have arrived in the county looking for employment without having contacted us or applied for a job with us beforehand through or through one of our recruiting trips, to find that we are fully staffed for the season already,” Ladyga wrote in an

e-mail. “We value every single one of our employees, no matter where they come from and would never leave an employee stranded.”

About 60 South Americans have registered at the Colorado Work Force Center in Frisco, said labor specialist Kent Abernathy.

“They usually come in big bunches. We’ve had them from Brazil and Argentina. We’re putting them on our computers,” Abernathy said. “The ones I talked to came without a promissory job. They’re astute on the computer, intelligent, educated and earnest in their desire to work.”

Recession fall-out

Because of the weak economy this season, many employers decided not to hire the same number of staff that they have in past years. Some businesses have cut their staffs significantly.

Last season, Brazilians made up half of the 10 employees at AB Ski, a ski-rental shop in Frisco.

This year, the shop has only five employees, including two Brazilians, according to owner Lori Davis.

To cut labor costs in the down economy, Davis and her husband are working more themselves, she said.

Tired of the endless stream of Brazilians seeking jobs, some stores in Breckenridge have posted signs that read: “We’re not hiring.”

One of the biggest sponsors for J1 visas in the United States, Camp Counselors USA, said that while many students are struggling to find jobs, few have headed home.

“Only six of our international students gave up this week and are coming home,” said Maria Fagerstem, CCUSA’s winter program director. “It is pretty much the same as last year.”

But with almost one month having passed since their arrival, the Brazilians will have to hurry up with their job search. They only have 30 days to find employment and fax the job offer to the sponsor, or their visas will expire.

Without income, the Brazilians spend very little. Instead of skiing and eating in nice places, they try to save their money as long as they can.

“I still have the money that my parents gave to me, but I know it won’t last long, so I try to buy the cheapest things,” Bretas said. “I’m always having 15-cent noodles for lunch, and I’m going to stay like this until I get a job. What I don’t want is to come back to Brazil earlier.”

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