Ritter misses mark on resorts’ foreign worker shortage

Gov. Bill Ritter’s comment Thursday that Colorado’s ski and hospitality industries are being hurt by tougher state immigration laws adopted in 2006 is only partly true.

Speaking before a University of Denver panel studying the impacts of immigration, Ritter said the 2006 laws adopted during a special legislative session –- setting stricter standards to receive state benefits –- have made it more difficult for tourism-based industries to find workers.

This ski season, in the wake of the overall economic meltdown and rising unemployment nationally, ski areas have actually been turning foreign workers away. But in the past the industry was heavily reliant on H2-B visas for workers from Europe, South America and Australia who operate chairlifts, staff restaurants and hotels, teach skiing and drive buses.

Most industry experts, though, say the biggest hurdle for ski areas trying to attract foreign workers has been congressional gridlock over comprehensive immigration reform.

Industry executives want to increase the number of H2-B visas and allow workers to return season after season, but Congress has lumped that request in with the debate over illegal immigration from Mexico and Central America.

Ritter on Thursday also said the agricultural industry along Colorado’s Front Range is being hurt by a lack of workers because of the 2006 laws.

The DU panel is expected to produce a report with policy recommendations on immigration issues in December.