Straits area sees worker shortage amid visa problems
MACKINAW CITY (AP) — Some business owners in the tourist industry of Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island say they’re experiencing a severe worker shortage because of a drop in federal visas.
The federal government limits visas to 66,000 foreign workers per year, but it didn’t used to include returning workers against the cap. Congress decided not to renew the exemption for returning workers in September 2016 after then-presidential candidate Donald Trump condemned foreign workers getting American jobs, the Detroit News reported.
Mackinac Island business owners said the shift has hurt the tourism industry because the island of fewer than 500 residents has depended on foreign workers to fill summer jobs for decades. The decline in workers has meant overtime or no days off for existing workers and higher prices for tourists.
“It’s been a nightmare,” said Joe Lieghio, whose family and investors own eight restaurants and nearly 30 hotels in Mackinaw City. “They take the jobs that the Americans don’t want.”
Lieghio’s hotels and restaurants got 160 foreign employees this year. That’s about 60 percent of the foreign workers they normally employ.
“We were lucky to get what we had,” he said.
Businesses statewide are struggling to fill openings with an unemployment rate of 3.7 percent, which is below the national average, said Dave Murray, spokesman for the Michigan Talent and Economic Development Department.
Employers expect temporary relief before the end of tourism season in October because the U.S. Department of Homeland Security approved 15,000 extra foreign workers for this year. Agency officials said it made the decision because American businesses faced “irreparable harm due to the lack of available temporary non-agricultural workers.”