For Maine businesses in the tourism and hospitality industries, spring is the hiring season.
To get through busy summers, employers often add students and foreign workers on H-2B visas to their staff. But for the second year in a row, a seasonal worker shortage may be looming.
"There's probably going to be even more of a shortage," warned business and immigration lawyer Sara Fleming, from the Ford Murray law firm in Portland. "I think a lot of employers who either hadn't started their process for these visas early enough, or hadn't identified workers for their positions early enough, will miss out."
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The federal government allows 66,000 H-2B visas each year. In the past, returning foreign workers were not counted toward that 66,000 — but now they are.
This year, applications far outpaced the number of visas available, and the 66,000 cap was met in March. That means employers who were counting on foreign help, but haven't secured it yet, may be out of luck.
"If people don't have seasonal workers," Fleming said, "businesses are going to close."
It happened last year — the Sunset Beach Motel in Boothbay had to close two months early due to a worker shortage.
"I think [the previous owner] started with not enough workers," said Marge Firpo, the new owner of the motel. Re-branded as the Smuggler's Cove Inn, Firpo got an early start on the hiring process and has secured at least 10 workers for their May opening.
"We've got more than an adequate staff right now," she said.
But "Help Wanted' signs are posted on other businesses in Boothbay and beyond.
In Kittery, the owner of Bob's Clam Hut said he can't have another summer with a labor shortage. Michael Landgarten is hoping to gain a competitive edge recruiting from the limited pool of locals, and has started to offer $11 an hour to staff, $2 higher than their previous minimum wage.