Work visa change further stems flow of foreign workers for ski resorts

An international visa program that for years has allowed ski instructors and other resort workers from Australia, New Zealand, South America and Europe to work at Colorado ski areas just took another major hit – this time from an unlikely source in the Obama administration.

The Aspen Daily News reports 57 foreign ski instructor set to work for the Aspen Skiing Company learned last week they won’t be hired for the coming season because the SkiCo balked at a new Obama administration rule change to the H2-B visa program requiring employers to pay travels costs for international workers.

Aspen was already planning to significantly curtail its H2-B visa hires because of the down economy and rising unemployment numbers in the United States, but it still planned to hire some foreign workers who are skilled seasonal employees who often work year-round because of the seasonal difference between the northern and southern hemispheres.

“These people were vital and important employees,” SkiCo spokesman Jeff Hanle told the Daily News. “It certainly wasn’t an easy decision.”

The last several years have been tough for longtime H2-B workers in the ski industry, many of whom have been returning to Colorado resorts for 10 or more years and add an international flavor for destination resorts.

The Colorado ski industry had been seeking a seasonal exemption for returning foreign workers so they wouldn’t count against the H2-B visa cap. But under the Bush administration that exemption was caught up in seemingly endless immigration reform debate – not exactly a high priority for the Obama administration either given the ongoing battles over health care and climate change.

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