Resort Towns Fearful As Work Visas Denied

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Visas shortage affecting summer businesses, Michelle Miller
CBS

All over The Hamptons, owners of the ritzy shops and fancy restaurants are getting ready for the season — the three months from Memorial Day to Labor Day when they make their money for the year.

But this year many businesses are facing hard times because of cutbacks in temporary visas that allow seasonal workers like waitresses and yard laborers to enter the country. CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller reports.

For 30 years, Tish Rehill has owned a landscaping company. She's relied heavily on Latin American laborers with legal temporary H-2b visas. She says bankruptcy is "a real possibility."

She says she needs a lot of workers.

"Forty-two is what I applied for this year, 13 were going to be new, 26 were returning workers.

Asked how many she has lined up, she says "I have none."

During the summer the hamptons population explodes, more than doubling its size — and that's the problem. Businesses can't keep up with demand without the influx of immigrant workers to serve them.

And it's not just the Hamptons. Resorts from Maine to Miami are dependent on seasonal workers who come from Europe and Latin America.

According to a Labor Department spokesman, there's been a 30 percent jump in applications for these temporary work visas. That's slowed down processing, as have stricter guidelines as to who qualifies. But business owners say the department is dragging its feet.

"This could be disastrous to the economy," says Paul Monte, president of the Montauk Chamber of Commerce.

Each year, Hamptons businesses apply for visas for between 4,000 and 5,000 foreign workers.

Monte estimates the Department of Labor has denied as many as 1,500 of them.

Thirty of the visas he requested for Monte's hotel were denied. He says he can get by but worries others may turn to illegal workers who gather each day looking for work to fill the gap.

"Desperate times call for desperate measures and I'm sure that if it comes down to survival people are going to do what it takes to survive," says Monte.

Many of the Hamptons businesses are appealing the visa denials and the hope they will be reversed in time for them to save their summer profits.