SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Each summer, workers from foreign countries come to South Dakota to work in the tourism industry.
Most work under a federal H2B visa, which is a temporary work visa geared toward non-agricultural workers in seasonal jobs like construction, tourism and similar areas. Under an H2B visa, a worker from another country lives and works in the U.S. for a limited time.
But U.S. Department of Labor regulations require that those jobs first be available to U.S. workers and when none are available, those jobs can be offered to foreign workers with H2B visas.
The rules include several provisions to expand recruitment of U.S. workers, including more real-time recruitment efforts, requiring employers to offer work to former U.S. employees first and establishing a national electronic job registry.
South Dakota is one state that needs H2B workers, the state’s tourism Secretary Jim Hagen said in two tourism news conferences on Monday.
“(President) Biden recently announced the addition of 22,000 H2B visas on top of what’s normally allotted,” Hagen said.
The additional 22,000 visas is critical but “everyone across the country will be vying for those workers,” Hagen said.
The U.S. Department of Labor shows that in second quarter of Fiscal Year 2021, there were about 1,600 applications for H2B in South Dakota. Dawn Dovre, communications director for the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation, said a query she made showed about 1,692 applications for Q2 for FY21. About 99.9% of the applications come during the second quarter, Dovre said.
The DOL’s list of the applications show employer addresses in Aberdeen, Hill City, Keystone, Sioux Falls and other cities. The types of jobs covered under the H2B applications include maids and housekeeping cleaners, food preparation workers, hotel, motel and resort desk clerks, construction laborers, cement mason workers and others.
Former President Donald Trump placed a cap on H2B visas that was much lower than the 66,000 cap. Trump cited a need to protect American workers although H2B jobs must first be made available to U.S. workers.
Industries that hire H2B workers have pressured Congress to expand the 66,000 cap on H2B visas. They had also pressured Trump and are now asking Biden to expand the cap.
Hagen and Governor Kristi Noem said South Dakota’s national lawmakers are aware of the need to expand H2B visas. The need must also continue to be stressed to the Biden Administration, they said.
Hagen and Noem also mentioned a new workforce recruitment partnership between the tourism department and the S.D. DLR. The pair did not share many details of the program.
Katlyn Svendenson, the Global Media and Public Relations Director for Travel South Dakota, said in an email to KELOLAND News, “The campaign and initiative that we are working on is in the beginning stages and look forward to rolling it out more completely in the coming days/weeks.”
Hagen did say the program would focus on U.S workers.
One area under consideration is retirees, Hagen said. Some retirees are not ready to completely stop working and may be interested in seasonal work in tourism, he said.
Noem said that not only can workers be recruited for tourism jobs, they are also potential new South Dakota residents.
The tourism industry employees about 50,000 workers. Svendsen said the state does not break that figure into full or part time jobs.