Staffing Solutions for the Hotel Industry

By Jerome G. Grzeca Founder & Managing Partner, Grzeca Law Group, S.C. | December 04, 2016

Hotels, like other U.S. companies, are struggling to find solutions to staffing shortages. Every month, more than a quarter-million Americans turn 65, which is a trend that has profound workforce and economic consequences in this country. In addition, unemployment rates continue to fall, dropping to 4.9% nationwide in September 2016. These changes, along with other factors like increases in occupancy rates and high labor costs, have resulted in many hotel companies having trouble finding and hiring qualified workers for open positions.

Of course, it's not an option for the rooms not to be cleaned or for the meals not to be prepared and served when employees are hard to find. This leaves current staff working too much overtime, leading to additional owner expense, as well as employee dissatisfaction and turn-over. To solve these problems, hotels are thinking outside the box, and when all else fails while trying to find local workers, they start looking abroad. As a full-service immigration firm for several international hotel companies, we often receive calls from clients asking us to help them solve these labor shortages by hiring foreign national employees. While many hotel companies utilize work visas for professional (TN, H-1B, L-1B) and managerial (L-1A, E-2) employees, many do not take advantage of options available to them with respect to "low-skilled" labor to supplement their workforce. This article focuses on immigration options that hotels may not have considered before, some of which are listed here.

Temporary Immigration Solutions

I. Temporary Need – H-2Bs

This visa classification, known as the H-2B, was designed specifically for a "temporary need" where the employer cannot find qualified U.S. workers. The temporary need, usually less than 9 months, can be a one-time occurrence, a seasonal need, a peak load need or an intermittent need. Unlike other visa categories, there is no need for the employees to have a certain level of education or experience outside of what the hotel requires for this position. Therefore, this is one of the few immigration options available for "non-professional" positions (defined by immigration as positions that don't require at least a Bachelor's Degree).

There are several planning considerations when pursing an H-2B visa classification. First, these types of visas are "capped," and there are only so many available each year. While the year is broken into two parts for the cap, it is possible for the government to run out of numbers at any time, so an employer who had planned to file a petition might lose their opportunity. Therefore, if an employer is interested in pursuing an H-2B visa classification, it would start the immigration work at least 5 months prior to when it would need the employees to start work. In addition, H-2B petitions can only be filed for citizens of certain countries (please see the current list here: https://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/temporary-workers/h-2b-temporary-non-agricultural-workers#H2-B%20Countries). Furthermore, there are several rules about payments for H-2B workers; for example, they must be paid at least the prevailing wage in the work area, all visa and petition expenses must be paid by the employer, and the employer must pay for their transportation to and from the U.S.

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Coming up in January 2019...

Mobile Technology: The Future is Now

Mobile Technology continues to advance at a relentless pace and the hotel industry continues to adapt. Hotel guests have shown a strong preference for mobile self-service - from checking-in/out at a hotel kiosk, to ordering room service, making dinner reservations, booking spa treatments, and managing laundry/dry cleaning services. And they also enjoy the convenience of paying for these services with smart phone mobile payments. In addition, some hotels have adopted a “concierge in your pocket” concept. Through a proprietary hotel app, guests can access useful information such as local entertainment venues, tourist attractions, event calendars, and medical facilities and services. In-room entertainment continues to be a key factor, as guests insist on the capacity to plug in their own mobile devices to customize their entertainment choices. Mobile technology also allows for greater marketing opportunities. For example, many hotels have adopted the use of “push notifications” - sending promotions, discounts and special event messages to guests based on their property location, purchase history, profiles, etc. Near field communication (NFC) technology is also being utilized to support applications such as opening room doors, earning loyalty points, renting a bike, accessing a rental car, and more. Finally, some hotels have adopted more futuristic technology. Robots are in use that have the ability to move between floors to deliver room service requests for all kinds of items - food, beverages, towels, toothbrushes, chargers and snacks. And infrared scanners are being used by housekeeping staff that can detect body heat within a room, alerting staff that the room is occupied and they should come back at a later time. The January Hotel Business Review will report on what some hotels are doing to maximize their opportunities in this exciting mobile technology space.