Outer Banks businesses facing challenges related to international student worker shortage

Donuts4You Outer Banks
Posted at 8:52 PM, Jul 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-14 23:34:02-04

KITTY HAWK, N.C. - The summertime is a busy time for businesses in the Outer Banks.

But this season, shops like Donuts4You in Kitty Hawk and Dirty Dick’s Crab House in Nags Head have been hit hard with challenges trying to find work.

One issue being a shortage of international workers due to COVID-19.

“Today is my actual first working day,” Elizavata Strizhkova, a student visiting from Russia, told News 3. “I feel like I’m already a part of a team.”

Strizhkova and Janista Rattanaarpa, a student from Thailand, traveled thousands of miles to the Outer Banks. The two work at Dirty Dick's Crab House.

For Strizhkova, it took six flights in two weeks to get here.

“There’s a lot of friendly people and a lot of interesting work, and I can practice my language,” Strizhkova said.

For Rattanaarpa, this is her first time traveling from Thailand.

“This is the last opportunity that I can go as a student,” Rattanaarpa told News 3. “I talked with my parents, and they were like, “Go! Go get the vaccine. Get the vaccine.'"

Dr. Patrik Skultety wears many hats. He’s the owner of Donuts4You, a professor at Mid-Atlantic Christian University in Elizabeth City and head of a non-profit, Global University Institute, which sponsors students to come to the United States.

“I was walking in their shoes,” Skultety said of his experience as an international student coming to work from his native country of Slovakia. “It was my dream to come to the United States.”

But this year's batch of international students is smaller than usual.

“They’ve had the problem with the embassies in that they were closed, and they couldn’t issue the visas,” Skultety said. “We had, for example, four students. They were supposed to come, but because of the embassies issue, they couldn’t even apply for their visa.”

It’s hit those like Dirty Dick’s GM, Rob Barker, hard.

“[I’ve] been running it for 10 years; this is the hardest year I’ve ever had,” Barker said. “In 2019, I had 28 students… I currently, this year, am very lucky. [I’m] very blessed to have 11 students. And the business is up by 30%.”

“A lot of them, they just cut their hours because they’re not open as they used to be because they don’t have enough workers,” Skultety said in reference to impacts of the shortage on local businesses.

For Barker, he has a message for local and state leaders.

“Your constituency needs you,” he said.

Related: Outer Banks restaurants facing challenges finding workers for busy summer season

Meanwhile, Skultety and others are staying positive and hoping local help will be the recipe to help get through.

“I believe that this situation helps us to build a good team, where we’ll be strong inside and we’ll be able to be even better for the next season,” he said.

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