While this strategy can help you cover business surges, it may not be worth the risk.
Management at family-owned Quality Seafood Inc. has often looked abroad to cover seasonal surges in business, hiring international university students during the busy summer months.
It has been a hit-and-miss deal. Working through CIEE, a nonprofit international-exchange program, the company has drawn workers from as far afield as Russia and Turkey, says family member and marketing manager Brian Dragich. They've covered a labor shortfall, but there has been a downside, too, with some students treating this opportunity more as play time.
"Typically, it was much more difficult to manage them than our [local] employees. The reason for this could be due to cultural differences in work expectations or the fact that they're working on a 'vacation,'" Dragich says.
Besides the ups and downs of managing employees, the overall process of hiring short-term international workers can be daunting. Immigration attorney Elizabeth Ricci of law firm Rambana & Ricci PLC outlines the process:
Q: What kind of visa does a business owner need to obtain for seasonal labor?
A: "We are talking about the H2B non-agricultural visa. That’s a category of visa that is available for seasonal, temporary, intermitted or peak-load need. But the definitions are not always clear. There is a lot of back and forth with the Department of Labor trying to explain the need and justify the need so that they will issue that visa," says Ricci.
Q: What's a legitimate need?
A: "For example, lifeguard is a seasonal need. In Florida, there is a hospitality season when the snowbirds come down here and the hospitality industry gets very busy. It's also very commonly used in the oyster industry because oysters are farmed during certain months. Those are the kinds of employers who would need temporary workers."
Q: What's it like working with the Department of Labor?
A: "It's hard and it’s expensive. It's hard because you have to first do a recruitment, taking out newspaper ads and posting on the Department of Labor jobs website in order to show you have given American workers the opportunity to apply for a job. Then you have to file a recruitment report. Then the Department of Labor can take weeks or months to do the certification, and even then there are only 33,000 H2B visas available per half year."
Q: Is there more to it?
A: "After the Department of Labor, you still have to file with Immigration. The fees excluding your recruitment expenses will be about $1,800 for a single applicant."
Q: Is it worth the effort?
A: "It depends. How bad is the need? Are you able to use American workers? If not, you almost are forced to use the system. It is a way to get employees to do job for which American workers may not be available. This is a way to fill the need, to get those workers in place."
Q: How can a business owner make it easier?
A: "I always tell people if you can find a worker who is already here as an H2B, you can transfer that person to you, but that is not usually the scenario. Usually you have to get them from abroad, which means you have to have a recruiter working on your behalf in that other country."
Q: Are there some common mistakes?
A: "If you have potential workers in mind, before you start spending money, make sure they don’t have an immigration history or a criminal history that will preclude them from the visa. Have they ever been caught and fingerprinted by immigration? Have they been in the United States illegally for more than 180 days? You need to know that before you spend a lot of time trying to get them a visa."
Q: How can business owners improve the system?
A: "Get active in lobbying groups, get involved in working with the government to encourage legal immigration. Encourage Congress to allow more workers, to make it a little easier. If you are involved in an industry that needs these workers, you have an obligation to make sure our government does right by you and does right by these workers."