Romer: Trump’s visa suspension further damages Eagle County economy
On June 22, President Trump signed a proclamation that suspends —through the end of the year and as long thereafter as he deems “necessary” — issuance of new nonimmigrant visas in large swaths of the country’s legal immigration system, including the H-1B, H-2B, J, and L nonimmigrant visa programs.
The stated ground for the suspension is that entry of nonimmigrant workers is “detrimental to the interests of the United States” given “economic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak” and a purported lack of “alternative means to protect unemployed Americans from the threat of competition for scarce jobs.”
As our local economy continues to recover from the economic impacts of COVID-19, one long-standing problem remains: Eagle County businesses need workers to stay open. Our mountain communities have always depended on seasonal help in hospitality, construction and landscaping.
Make no mistake: the pandemic has not changed this equation. Our workforce needs remain across industry sectors. Some experts are now predicting unprecedented demand for winter vacations and Colorado is primed to benefit as Americans seek to safely vacation and exercise outdoors. That means we’re going to need these workers more than ever.
We’re not alone in this view. More than 180 businesses across Colorado, including the Vail Valley Partnership, have demanded that the Trump administration protect this important labor pool. Many of us strongly opposed President Trump’s executive order last month suspending temporary H-2B and J-1 visas through the end of the year. Colorado will need these workers to fill regular jobs — but also new customer service needs, like increased cleaning of facilities and equipment and construction of social-distancing barriers.
The White House said its policy would protect American jobs during this unprecedented recession, but that argument does not resonate in many Colorado communities, including Eagle Country. Here, our permanent population does not meet our workforce needs.
Although our unemployment rate has risen to 15.3 percent in June — a big jump since the pre-coronavirus rate of 1.6 percent — this figure doesn’t account for our annual winter rush. Even in the depths of previous recessions, we’ve had more jobs than people to staff them. As we approach winter, businesses will be looking to hire, and there are jobs to fill.
Seasonal workers are critical to our local and statewide recovery. One analysis from New American Economy and the American Enterprise Institute found that adding 100 H-2B workers resulted in 464 more jobs for U.S. natives. These workers meet our short-term needs and allow us to weather this downturn in the long run.
Without them — or with increased barriers to bringing them — the White House is making life increasingly difficult for business owners. Employers already have so much worry about — like the looming cutbacks to the Paycheck Protection Program and unemployment supplements. They shouldn’t have to worry about navigating visa red tape at a time like this.
By now, we all understand that we’re playing a long game with the pandemic. Many things have changed, but in some ways — such as our need for a workforce — life in Eagle County and Colorado remains the same. Over the next couple of months, businesses, including retail, restaurants, housekeeping and construction, will start their annual scramble to fill jobs before the start of the next ski season. As usual, we’re collectively depending on its success.
We need all hands on deck, including the support of the Trump administration, especially as we navigate the unknown. Losing our supply of seasonal workers would be devastating for us. President Trump, please reverse this executive order now.
Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at www.vailvalleypartnership.com.