United States

Maine Looks to Puerto Rico for Seasonal Workers

Facing another seasonal worker shortage this summer, a Maine resort has completely given up on applying for foreign worker visas and is finding success recruiting in Puerto Rico.

"It's really a win-win," said Sebasco Resort owner Bob Smith. "We need staff ... and they need opportunities."

His seaside resort in Phippsburg hired six people from Puerto Rico last year. This summer, that number has more than doubled.

Unlike many other New England businesses in the tourism industry, his staffing levels are in "good shape" heading into their busiest season.

"I love it here," said maintenance worker Luis Morales. He enjoyed his experience working in Maine so much that he recruited several friends from his hometown of Comerio, Puerto Rico, to work at Sebasco.

"He said, 'If you want to see one of the most beautiful places in the USA, you can come with me to Maine,'" said Jose Burgos while he worked with Morales sanding a deck Tuesday.

Both Burgos and Morales said the wages are better in Maine, and they enjoyed the scenery and fresh air. Back home, their communities are struggling to rebuild after Hurricane Maria.

"Everybody in Puerto Rico needs help," said Burgos. "It's too hard to be there at this time."

For employers like Smith, it's much easier to hire help from U.S. citizens from Puerto Rico. Smith said he gave up on the H2B foreign worker visa program, and knows fellow business owners who relied on it are in trouble, now that the visa program has hit its cap.

Hiring workers locally has also been a challenge. This spring, the unemployment rate in Maine hit a record low at 2.7 percent.

"We've done job fairs, we've worked with the department of labor, we've done everything we can to find people locally to fill these jobs but it's not enough to meet those needs," said Smith.

The positions pay well: between $12-$15 per hour. Smith said it's so vital to fill them that he is paying for some workers from Puerto Rico to fly to and from Maine for the summer. Once they arrive, they have housing and meals at the resort.

"I think it's a good gig," said Smith.

Burgos and Morales agree.

"I want to say to all the people in Puerto Rico, if they want to find a beautiful place to live, or a beautiful place to work, come to Maine," said Burgos. "You can find new people, new seasons, and the beautiful beaches here."

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