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Feds to expedite temporary work visas, a big help for understaffed ski resorts in Maine

ski sugarloaf edited.jpg
Esta Pratt-Kielley
Maine Public
The sun sets at Sugarloaf Ski Resort in Carrabassett Valley, Maine on February 13, 2022.

The Departments of Homeland Security and Labor are issuing about 65,000 additional H-2B visas for fiscal year 2023 to help small businesses that need workers. As of mid-September, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reported the first half of the H-2B visa cap had been reached early. Sen. Angus King is among lawmakers asking the government to expedite the release of the remaining visas, so ski resorts can access and train needed staff before seasonal demand ramps up.

The National Ski Areas Association reports that 81% of ski operators said they were unable to fully staff their resorts last year, with an average of 75 positions left unfilled.

"It's an important tool for us to be able to fully staff the resort. Especially the last two years when the labor market has been pretty tight," said Sugarloaf marketing director Ethan Austin.

The Department of Homeland Security and Department of Labor announced the increase of H-2B visas allotted for Fiscal Year 2023 to help small businesses hire workers. The 65,000 visas are in addition to the 66,000 H-2B visas that are typically issued each year.

Ski areas responded by raising wages, adding end-of-season bonuses, and investing in affordable workforce housing.

Austin said Sugarloaf currently has 15 H-2B visa workers on staff. The resort employs 900 workers in the winter and up to 350 workers in the off-season. The Maine ski and winter tourism season traditionally runs from late-fall through early-spring.

Carol Bousquet