The businesses at the Jersey Shore are already gearing up in order to be ready to reopen come Memorial Day Weekend. Restaurants are preparing for what they hope will be a busier season that last year, as other places along boardwalks are looking for a rebound in business as well.
But there's one thing missing: workers, especially foreign workers who usually are allowed to come on certain visas.
"We are all ready to recover from COVID, to economically heal, and we need the staff to be able to do so," said Denise Beckson of Morey's Piers in The Wildwoods. Hopes for a more normal summer there come with waves of worry about the possible shortage of workers.
Along with many other tourism-dependent Jersey Shore businesses, Morey's relies on foreign students to help fill the labor force because of a traditional lack of American applicants.
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Those workers come to the U.S. on special visas, but there are significant concerns about if they'll be able to make it into the country due to a combination of factors. First, there are COVID-related visa processing delays. Secondly, there are additional temporary non-immigrant visa restrictions issued by former President Trump that expired at the end of March
Vicki Clark, the Chamber of Commerce president for Cape May County, said that they are "working very hard to have the Biden administration fast-track applications for non-immigrant visas."
Beckson said that in a typical April, nearly three-quarters of the foreign students have a visa by the end of the month. But this year, she said it's "really not measurable at this point."
Casino Pier in Seaside Heights also typically hires a number of foreign students through the J-1 visa exchange visitor program. They are currently working on a Plan B with the thought in mind that those students won't be here in time for the summer, saying that they will be hiring "all Americans, and if (the foreign students) do come, it's even better."
Beckson said they're trying to expand their applicant pool, but competition is tight.
"We've increase our advertising spend, we've got billboards," she said. "It's a hard stretch with the number of folks that reside in the area, and the number of seasonal businesses everybody's hiring. We're all competing for the same people."