Back in April, U.S. Travel issued an assessment that revealed the total number of job openings in the travel workforce had averaged 1.5 million since the start of the year.
The problem, according to U.S. Travel, was that while demand from travelers had returned post pandemic, travel workforce labor supply challenges were continuing and causing gaps that forced many travel-related businesses to reduce hours and services. Contributing factors include limited immigration in the past few years, more retirements due to an aging workforce, declining participation in the workforce from 16- to 24-year-olds, a strong economy, a labor market that offers more options for workers, and increased competition among employers, according to the organization.
As summer has given way to fall, the travel workforce picture is only slightly better. A late August update from U.S. Travel indicates that while leisure and hospitality openings have steadily fallen, there were still 1.2 million open travel workforce positions in July. That’s down from 1.6 million in January.
One answer U.S. Travel sees is to expand access to workers with H-2B visas, which make it possible for foreign workers to come to the U.S. temporarily and accept nonagricultural jobs. U.S. Travel reports that it succeeded in advocating for the Biden administration to release supplemental H-2B visas in advance of the application window that limits when workers can start their jobs.
For example, half of the 66,000 available H-2B visas are released annually on April 1 and Oct. 1, but demand for workers in the second half of the year including the busy summer travel months routinely exceeds the allotment. This year, demand exceeded the allotment for the first half of the year, too.
U.S.Travel is urging Congress to pass legislation that would exempt returning workers from being counted among the amount of visas allowed, which would basically increase the number of available H-2B visas. Still, it’s a piecemeal approach and broken system, U.S. Travel argues.
“Many … businesses and resorts rely on access to temporary foreign workers to meet traveler demand,” says U.S. Travel Association Executive Vice President of Public Affairs Tori Emerson Barnes. “The federal government must not only prioritize enhancements to the H-2B program to ensure local travel economies … can continue to grow, but we ultimately need an overhaul to the H-2B program. With 1.2 million travel jobs open in the U.S., the only way to grow travel—which benefits the economics of communities across the country—is to ensure we have the workforce to support that growth.”