As DeSantis ferried legal asylum seekers to Martha’s Vineyard, business owners in his state fight for workers



CNN Business

For the past two years, Jan Gautam has sporadically worked as a housekeeper at hotels in Orlando, Florida run by Interesting Hotels & Resort Management, or IHRMC.

When he’s not making the beds, he’s busy running the business. He is President and CEO of IHRMC, which is based in Orlando, Florida.

“I was making beds a few days ago. It is very difficult to find employees,” Gautam said.

There are 11.2 million open jobs in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, up from 10.8 million last year. And there were 1.5 million open jobs in hospitality in July. The IHRMC says 60% of its 4,500 employees left the company during the pandemic, many to work from home. Now Gautam and other managers are taking over – in housekeeping, cooking and at reception.

That’s why some Florida business owners were perplexed when Florida Governor Ron DeSantis sent legal asylum seekers from San Antonio, Texas to Martha’s Vineyard on two flights earlier this month. .

“Why are they sending them there when we need people here. We could use them,” Gautam said.

Asylum seekers are legally permitted to work in the United States while awaiting their asylum application. During this waiting period, asylum seekers can apply for a work permit – a process that usually takes 180 days before they are allowed.

DeSantis said he believed asylum seekers were “trying to come to Florida” from Texas. To use money from a $12 million Florida taxpayer-funded program to move migrants out of Florida, the planes stopped in DeSantis State. Whether asylum seekers intend to go to Florida or not, business owners report they would welcome them.

“We have a huge labor shortage in Florida in pretty much every industry here. It’s hard to see volunteer workers leaving your state with taxpayers’ money,” said Jessica Cooper, owner of Sugar Top Farms just outside Orlando.

According to a Syracuse University study, more than 670,000 asylum seekers in the United States are waiting for their cases to be heard. The wait can take four and a half years on average. In the meantime, US asylum seekers can apply for a work permit – a process that can take six months on average.

DeSantis said he plans to use all $12 million in public funds to move migrants out of Florida.

Cooper runs a small farm with her husband Jordan. They grow edible produce and flowers and sell them to local restaurants around Orlando and at Disney World. They only need a handful of farmhands to pick and plant the crops, but even those roles are difficult to fill.

“We find it difficult to keep the domestic workforce. This is a difficult work. It’s not for everyone,” Connor said.

The agriculture industry has long relied on foreign labor and visa programs because domestic workers are less reliable and less willing to do physical labor. Agriculture is Florida’s second largest industry behind tourism.

Both industries pay relatively low wages, which makes it more difficult to attract workers in a competitive job market. The hospitality and recreation industry pays an average of $20 per hour, while agricultural workers earn an average of $18 per hour. But for the construction industry, their average wage of $35 an hour is not the problem. It’s an aging workforce. The average age of a construction worker is 55 and retirement is 61.

The average age of an asylum seeker is 35 and tends to be younger than the median age in the United States, according to the Department of Homeland Security. This is a population that could help sustain an aging American workforce.

“We have an aging workforce that hasn’t been replaced by younger people,” said Michele Daugherty, president of the Central Florida Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors.

The group said it would be open to hiring asylum seekers to help with the shortage.

“We can’t overlook anything,” Daugherty said. “If they can legally work here, we have jobs for them. We have opportunities for them not only to take care of themselves, but also of their families.

Last week, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates another three-quarters of a percentage point, a sign that the central bank is still trying to rein in annual inflation of 8.3% as food and rent prices rise. increase. But the increases are also inflicting pain by raising rates on Americans’ mortgages, student loans and credit card debt.

Increasing immigration to the United States might be a better tool, argues billionaire hedge fund manager and activist investor Bill Ackman. In a series of tweets last week targeting the central bank, Ackman said: “Doesn’t it make more sense to moderate wage inflation with increased immigration than by raising rates, destroying demand, putting people out of work and causing a recession?

A study from Texas A&M University confirms this claim, citing that the increase in the number of migrant and H2A visas for foreign workers is linked to a drop in inflation. And a new report from the National Foundation for American Policy indicates that increasing immigration is not depriving Americans of jobs.

“The research examined labor markets where more temporary foreign workers were employed before the pandemic and found that declining H-2B program admissions did not boost labor market opportunities for American workers, but rather aggravated them,” according to the report.

Gautam says the current immigration policy is hurting his business rather than helping it. Florida granted 7,101 asylum seekers permanent political asylum status between 2018 and 2020, second only to California and New Jersey. For example, in 2020, this represented 9.3% of all asylum seekers in the state.

Gautam believes that if more asylum seekers are granted permanent status, it will be a game-changer for the longevity of his business and his workforce.

“These people are here. They can start working and they can actually start supporting their families. And of course help us,” he said.

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