The Trump administration is restricting work visas for temporary foreign workers until at least January.
Officials say the ban on J-1 and H-2B visas is part of an effort to create more job opportunities for Americans reeling from the coronavirus and the related economic upheaval.
But business leaders throughout the region say they’re concerned about how the move could impact the local economy.
“We have such a strong seasonal spike in business that we just don’t have enough labor to support the demand,” said Wendy Northcross, CEO of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce. “And for decades businesses here on the Cape and the Islands have depended on the visa programs that have been available in this country since the 1950s.”
Foreign workers arrive each summer to work in home maintenance, landscaping, hospitality, construction, and food service.
“These are temporary seasonal jobs, not year-round employment opportunities,” Northcross added. “And on Cape Cod we’ve shown that it’s worked really well for our economy.”
Local businesses are already reeling from depressed tourism and restrictions related to the pandemic, and Northcross said she has doubts that limits on foreign workers would be effective on places like the Cape and the Islands.
She points to the high number of comfortable retirees who won’t necessarily be looking for part-time or seasonal work in an ice cream shop.
“Americans like to be employed year-round, that’s still [true] even in a high unemployment cycle,” she said. “We’ve seen this. They’ll not necessarily take a seasonal job because they want to be available for a year-round job.”
The ban on worker visas is expected last until at least 2021.