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Utah's Ski Industry Would Take A Hit Without Foreign Work Exchange Visas

Chris Pearson / Ski Utah

As the ski season approaches, Utah’s resorts are in the middle of filling thousands of seasonal jobs. Some of those workers come from overseas on visas that are under threat by the Trump administration.

The J-1 visa program is a foreign work exchange, usually used by college students from other countries. This year it will help Utah ski resorts fill about a thousand seasonal jobs, according to Nathan Rafferty, President of Ski Utah.

“About half of our resorts utilize J-1 visas,” Rafferty said. “Several ski areas use several hundred (J-1 workers), other use 10-20.”

Members of Congress from both parties, and more recently President Trump, have criticized the visa program, saying companies should hire American workers first. But Rafferty said the opposition is misguided because most jobs filled by J-1 visa workers are seasonal and low-wage.

“Americans are looking for full time work,” he said. “Our ski areas just have these seasonal opportunities available—we’re talking about lifties, dishwashers, and bus boys.”

Trump campaigned on slashing the program, or doing away with it entirely.  And while the administration hasn’t brought it up recently, Rafferty says the ski industry is still on edge.

“We are worried that this J-1 program could go away with the stroke of a pen. We’ve seen that with this administration,” he said, “and it would negatively impact our industry. There’s no question about it.

He says it’s not only ski resorts that use the visa program. Some farmers hire J-1 workers, and so do local businesses outside of Utah’s national parks. 

Nicole Nixon holds a Communication degree from the University of Utah. She has worked on and off in the KUER Newsroom since 2013, when she first joined KUER as an intern. Nicole is a Utah native. Besides public radio, she is also passionate about beautiful landscapes and breakfast burritos.
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