The US Department of Homeland Security announced on Friday that it would issue an additional 15,000 H-2B visas this summer for employers to hire non-farm seasonal workers from abroad, the Wall Street Journal reported. The guest worker visa program is limited by Congress to 66,000 of the six-month visas each year, divided evenly between the summer and winter seasons. This cap has not been raised since the 1990s, but the spending bill passed by Congress in March grants Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen the discretion to issue about twice that number depending on labor market needs.
DHS also issued an additional 15,000 visas last year, but coming in July, that decision was criticized as coming too late in the season to mitigate the shortages of seasonal labor that employers in sectors like hospitality, tourism, and landscaping had complained of. The Trump administration’s anti-immigration posture and its reluctance to open up the US to more foreign workers of any kind have had an impact on these seasonal industries’ ability to fill jobs, forcing them to raise wages, scramble to find American workers, or cut back on business in response. (Critics of the H-2B program, on both the left and the right, say these employers should be paying higher wages and working harder to market these jobs to US citizens.)
This summer, the labor market in the US is as tight as it was last year, if not more so, and seasonal employers are facing a similar challenge. Candidates for seasonal positions are finding themselves with more bargaining power than they used to have, being able to demand greater flexibility and control over their schedules. Employers have reported, meanwhile, that their applications for H-2B visas are being rejected at higher rates than usual. Demand for the visas this year so greatly exceeded the cap, the department had to award them through a lottery system, making the process more unpredictable for business owners who are accustomed to using these visas regularly.
What would you do with a $3,000 bonus? Take a trip to Walt Disney World? Well, if you’re working as a chef at the Florida resort this summer, that might be where you got the bonus in the first place. In its effort to fill 3,500 seasonal roles at its sprawling entertainment complex, Disney is offering outsized signing bonuses for some of these hires, including unskilled and part-time employees, Orlando Sentinel business writer Paul Brinkmann reported last week:
A housekeeper hired this year at Disney World’s resorts can get a hiring bonus of $1,250 for a job that pays $10.50 per hour. That’s up from last year’s $500 hiring bonus. And it’s for full-time or part-time hires. Full-time or part-time lifeguards this year can get a $1000 hiring bonus, double what the entertainment giant offered last year, and that is for full-time or part-time jobs, according to job postings. Seasonal lifeguards get a $500 bonus.
Bus drivers can get a $500 hiring bonus – the same as last year. Culinary chefs can get a $3,000 bonus. The bonuses are given after training periods and 30 days on the job.
Universal Orlando, the other major theme park in central Florida, is also hiring 3,000 seasonal workers this year, to whom it is offering “competitive salaries and comprehensive benefits packages.” Both parks are in the midst of holding job fairs to fill these thousands of positions. Disney World’s double bonuses are just the latest anecdotal indicator of the historically tight labor market in the US today. They also illustrate how the state of the labor market, combined with other trends, is affecting seasonal hiring specifically.
Corporate recruiting efforts are already in full swing to make sure the shelves are stocked during this year’s holiday season. Jennifer Smith of the Wall Street Journal reports that some US companies initially posted holiday openings as early as July, with many anticipating an increased need for warehouse and fulfillment workers.
With unemployment at its lowest in years, businesses have been forced to up the ante for seasonal workers, increasing wages, offering greater flexibility, and even transportation support. Smith reports that Macy’s is hiring 20 percent more seasonal workers than last year, as is XPO Logistics, a company with numerous e-commerce clients.
The fact that warehouse and logistics workers are the primary focus of hiring is indicative of increased online orders and declining in-store sales. The Journal reported that online retail sales rose 13 percent in November and December of 2016 while department stores saw a 7 percent drop in sales.
Warehouse hiring has gone up 31,000 over the past year and accounted for 951,000 jobs in August, meaning wages will likely to continue to grow given the shift in retail operations from in-store labor to fulfillment and facilities. Smith cites data from logistics staffing firm ProLogistix showing that the entry-level pay for warehouse workers is expected to be $13.68, a 10 percent increase from non-peak wages and a 5 percent increase from last year.