BAR HARBOR – Billions of dollars come into Maine every year through the tourism industry, but a cap on H-2B visas means some local businesses don’t have enough hands for this summer.
At Galyn’s Restaurant, the co-owner said they are 13 people short for the season, because their Jamaican seasonal workers don’t have visas.
Galyn’s opened a week late, reduced their menu, and won’t be serving lunch.
“It’s not just my restaurant, it’s the person who sells me beer. It’s the person who makes beer in Maine,” said Gail Leiser, the co-owner. “We’re not serving oysters. We would go through hundreds of oysters, but we have no one to shuck them.”
Late openings and reduced hours are a similar story throughout Bar Harbor, as the town depends on foreign workers to fill jobs there simply aren’t enough Mainers for.
“It’s not because they’re not hiring local. Everyone is hired, we don’t have enough people. We are an island,” said Martha Searchfield, the executive director for the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce. “Unfortunately it’s only the federal government who can make this better.”
Senators Angus King (I) and Susan Collins (R) urged the Department of Homeland Security to release more visas.
Late last month, DHS announced an additional 30,000 visas would be made available nationwide.
Senator Collins said DHS should go back to allowing returning foreign workers to automatically receive a visa the next year.
“We know that these workers are not going to overstay their visas. They’ve proven that,” said Senator Collins.
Senator King said he’s urging DHS to quickly release the paperwork to apply for those 30,000 visas.
“This isn’t about replacing American jobs or Maine jobs with people from foreign countries, it’s a question of sustaining those American jobs,” said Senator King.
In the meantime, Galyn’s co-owner said if they reduce hours all summer, they expect to lose 60 percent of their sales for the season.
Leiser said that loss, “will negatively impact a large number of local employees that we have.”