TRENTON — Employers in the United States, New Jersey and Cape May County are still struggling to fill all of their job openings, despite more than 1 million temporary and seasonal workers coming into the country in 2021.
On December 2nd, the Garden State Immigration Policy Institute – a joint initiative of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association and the New Jersey Business Immigration Coalition – hosted a webinar entitled “The Urgent Need for Temporary Immigrant Workers in the New Jersey Economy.” presents. The webinar discussed issues employers and workers face with the aim of “putting forward the best evidence to shed light on the issue in order to meet the best needs of business with a bipartisan consensus on migration issues”.
According to industry leaders, agency workers fill important job niches that not only fuel businesses and economies, they increase demand for U.S. workers in other jobs, lower prices and improve services, expand the state’s tax base, and make the state a more welcoming place for growth Company. In New Jersey, temporary foreign workers are employed in everything from farming to seasonal non-farm work, from college students working at amusement parks to professionals training in the medical field, and other postgraduate jobs. Nationwide, 47,752 temporary workers were hired last year.
Speakers from national and state business leaders included Anthony Catanoso, President of Steel Pier, Atlantic City; Laurie-Ann Flanagan, co-chair of the National H-2B Coalition (non-farm seasonal jobs); Peter Furey, executive director of the New Jersey Farm Bureau, and Lori Jenssen, executive director of the Jersey Nursey & Landscape Association.
“The labor shortage has adversely affected many industries in New Jersey,” the institute said. Although increasing the number of permanent visas could be a solution, another strategy is to give foreign-born people more legal opportunities to work on a temporary or seasonal basis.
“Throughout American history, many foreigners — unwilling to leave their home countries permanently — have shown a preference for this type of work,” the institute said. “At the same time, many industries in the United States, particularly agriculture, meatpacking, dairy, travel and tourism, landscaping, construction and hospitality, often depend on this type of workforce.”
The webinar speakers examined current admission figures for temporary foreign workers, whether existing programs meet the needs of employers, whether the workers themselves are treated fairly and what can be done to create win-win situations for employers and migrants as well as the economy , as a whole.
Two-thirds of seasonal jobs nationwide are vacant
“Wear a face mask,” Sendler said. “Keep two meters apart as much as possible, or limit contact to less than 10 minutes if you cannot stay two meters apart or wear a mask.”
According to David Bier, Associate Director of Immigration Studies at the Cato Institute (and national expert speaking at the webinar), more than two-thirds of the state’s temporary/seasonal positions remain vacant.
He said the state’s average monthly job openings continue to rise while the average number of monthly vacancies filled continue to decline because there are too few unemployed people willing to fill the vacancies.
“Temporary workers are important for the state because they occupy important niches and allow companies and the economy to grow,” said Bier.
Affordable housing on site is an issue
In the area of amusement parks, Catanoso said the Steel Pier (hires 400 full-time seasonal workers.
“If we open around Easter, we’ll have 100% local staff,” he said, “mostly high schoolers. But when we’re open full-time and running two shifts, we don’t have enough workers in the area to meet our needs.”
They need 150 international students to work between the 25 rides and attractions, 14 games and 13 food stands, and retail outlets on Steel Pier. They were able to hire 90 last summer.
Catanoso said that even if all the graduates from Cape May County high schools and all the graduates from Atlantic City High School were hired, there still wouldn’t be enough people to fill all the positions at Steel Pier and Morey’s Water Park’s Wildwoods .
Efforts to reach a Morey’s spokesperson have been unsuccessful, but in the past Morey’s has reported that there are 1,500 summer positions, about a third of which are filled by J-1 students.
In 2021, there were 2,008 J-1 students employed nationwide, down from a peak of 5,317 in 2016 but down from a low of 245 in 2020.
“If we don’t have enough staff, we will have to reduce or close our attractions,” added Catanoso.
The 2020-21 pandemic years hurt his business as international students could not travel or have visa interviews, hence vacancies and impacted attractions and opening times.
The problem facing these workers in Cape May County and the surrounding area is affordable housing. “We’ve seen affordable housing evaporate,” Catanoso said. “Some employers provide housing or work with students to help them find housing. We have to help more here.”
The ceiling for non-agricultural workers must be abolished
Under the H-2B seasonal non-farmer program, Flanagan said the number of eligible workers is capped at 66,000, which is not enough to fill temporary positions in hotels, forestry, golf courses and the horse industry. Employers work with four different agencies, so the hiring process is “expensive and not easy”. She hopes a long-term solution can be found to fill all vacancies and make the hiring process less of a hassle for employers.
Because workers are selected by lottery, the workforce is not as stable as employers would like. Employers spend time and energy training employees without knowing if they will return the following year, Flanagan said. During the application process, Flanagan said, employers would have to demonstrate their temporary need and show they had looked at the local market for employees.
“We would remove returnees from the upper limit because they have already proven themselves,” she explained. “These foreign workers are not taking jobs away from US workers.”
According to Flanagan, the US Department of Labor sets the wage scale, and employees are paid $18 to $20 plus an hour.
“The worker keeps his roots in his home country while enabling him to better provide for his family. They are treated well, there are few violations of labor law,” she said.
In 2021, there were 3,881 H-2B jobs certified by the Department of Labor for workers statewide.
Agribusiness strives for reforms
Furey hopes to reform agriculture at the federal level so farmers can fill all of their vacancies in a more cost-effective and less onerous process. Wages are higher than the market price, so workers are productive and return home when their jobs are complete.
The coalition recognizes the critical need for immigrant workers to expand U.S. agricultural production and keep food prices down, and has pushed for passage of the Farm Labor Modernization Act ( The bill has passed the House of Representatives and awaits the Senate Review and Approval It streamlines the application process for H-2B workers and allows undocumented farm workers, who currently make up the majority of the country’s 2.4 million farm workers, to apply for legal status in the U.S. if they can meet certain conditions, like z years in American agriculture.
In the 2017 Farm Census, which is conducted every five years, there were 164 farms in Cape May County covering 8,135 acres. 95 of these were family businesses and 26 employed farm workers.
Unfilled vacancies outside of agriculture
Jenssen said the state ranks fifth nationally in nursery sales and generates large revenues from the sale of fruits, vegetables, landscaping and other non-agricultural businesses.
“Our biggest problem is that it’s difficult to get local people to do the work we need,” she said. “We have apprenticeships, work with the organization Future Farmers of America, but we still don’t have enough. The program requires a lot of paperwork and is very expensive for employers, but they need workers to put in the effort. But in the end, they often don’t get their workers on time. Our business owners are now signing contracts for next year but are unsure they will even have the employees they need.”
Cape May County Herald, December 13, 2022