Oceanfront businesses strained without international summer workers

Virginia Beach Oceanfront
Posted at 3:22 PM, Jul 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-16 17:04:28-04

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - In the middle of summer, the Virginia Beach Oceanfront is the "place to be" for vacationers.

Restaurants are booming and tourists fill hotels that line the miles of sandy walkways. However, in 2020, things look different.

Food spots are filled to half capacity, people are wearing face masks and hotel employees are working overtime.

COVID-19 has hurt many parts of the country, and now it's hurting beach towns - in a new way. New travel restrictions have frozen visas for international summer workers, making it difficult for local businesses to find employees.

This comes after the Trump Administration put temporary freezes on multiple visas, including H-1B visas, H-2B visas, J-1 visas and L-1 visas:

  • The H-1B visa allows people from outside of the United States "to work in a specialty occupation. Requires a higher education degree or its equivalent. Includes fashion models of distinguished merit and ability and government-to-government research and development, or co-production projects administered by the Department of Defense."
  • The H-2B visa is "for temporary or seasonal non- agricultural work. Limited to citizens or nationals of designated countries, with limited exceptions, if determined to be in the United States interest."
  • J-1 visa "offers cultural and educational exchange opportunities in the United States through a variety of programs overseen by the U.S. State Department."
  • The L-1 visa "is for intracompany transferees who work in managerial or executive positions in a company that is located outside the United States."

Many Oceanfront hotels rely on international summer workers.

According to the most recent data provided by the State Department, the 23451 area code in Virginia Beach alone saw more than 1,090 summer workers. That statistic was significantly higher than in cities and towns in other parts of the state.

In 2018, the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs reported 4,698 summer workers across Virginia with 27 participating sponsors. During that same year, North Carolina reported 2,715 total participants across the state and 30 sponsors.

Now, with a freeze on the J-1 cultural exchange visa, businesses are without these workers.

That hurts the clients of the hospitality company, Gold Key|PHR in Virginia Beach. The company serves the operations of local hotels, restaurants, real estate firms and more.

Chuck Sass, the Executive Vice President of Food and Beverage Operations, said the impact is inconvenient. He said he had hired about three dozen employees to work in various positions along the oceanfront for the summer.

"I actually had a chef that was going to start at Orion's that we had made a job offer several months ago... he was in Mexico, and we haven't been able to get him here to finalize his visa, so we had to move on and make other arrangements," Sass said.

To make up for losses like that, Sass said managers have had to take on various roles and current employees have had to work overtime.

He said the company's hardest hit area has been housekeeping in hotels because the majority of folks on the J-1 visa fill those roles.

"Yes, it's a struggle but it's not anything that we can't overcome and are overcoming," he said.

Sass also said that the temporary freeze has affected more than just day-to-day operations across the Resort City.

"This program gives the opportunity for our staff to learn a little bit about [the participants'] culture. The way we interact has been always been enlightening and kind of special, so we miss them and we hope that they're going to be back next year," Sass said.

According to the White House, the restrictions will be in place for the remainder of the year.

However, without international employees, companies still need to fill open positions.

On Monday July 20, Gold Key|PHR will host a job fair for Orion’s Roof Garden & Dining, which set to launch the first week of August.

Opportunities include a range of diverse full-time positions including: Bartenders, servers, sushi cooks, line cooks, hostesses and stewardesses, to name a few.

From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., interested parties are welcome to interview with hiring managers on the spot for the hotel’s 100+ open job opportunities.

Interviewees are asked to park on the second floor and they will be directed to Orion's Roof. Bring parking ticket for validation.

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