Summer’s workforce a uniting of nations
International students in U.S. on visas help fill job openings
Help wanted signs still dot windows of shops in Lake George, Saratoga Springs and other area resort communities.
But local officials say job fairs and a student visa program have gone a long way to meet demand.
“We have many employers who go through the J-1 international student program,” said Gina Mintzer, executive director of the Lake George Regional Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The program brings overseas students and young adults to the United States to work. Local residents also are filling positions.
“My colleagues here say people are walking in daily looking for jobs,” Mintzer added. “People are fully staffed. Jobs are being filled.”
With a cap on H-2B visas, which also supply seasonal workers, the J-1 students are critical to meeting labor needs.
“The labor supply is adequate with the influx of the J-1 students,” said Lake George Mayor Robert Blais.
He estimates the program, which the Trump administration considered cutting last year, brought 1,500 to 1,800 students to the Lake George
area this season.
“Most of them work two jobs,” Blais said. “They fill most of the entry-level jobs.”
At Six Flags Great Escape theme park, 1,500 jobs needed to be filled. Rebecca Wood, theme park director of marketing and sales, said that while the J-1 program makes up less than 20 percent of its employees, “these outstanding college students from 12 different countries are an important part of our team and help to supplement our workforce, specifically before school lets out and after school begins in the fall.”
Students come from eastern Europe, Asia, Nigeria, Jamaica and other Caribbean nations.
“Without them, we’d be lost,” Blais said. “Many of our resorts would not be able to open in May or stay open in September.”
High school students typically aren’t available to work until late June and college students often return to class before Labor Day, leaving large attractions such as Six Flags seeking other workers.
They’ll consider retirees and even visitors to fill gaps on a temporary basis.
“We always look for ways to reinvent our recruiting approach,” said Wood of Six Flags. “Whether it be working with local senior centers, traveling Rv-ers, or using the latest technology like text recruiting and live-response chat rooms for applicants, our team has had to approach ... the ever-changing employment landscape” in innovative ways.
The J-1 candidates are attractive to employers for a number of reasons.
“We’re finding most are working on their master’s degrees already,” said Stephanie Fregoe, who is involved in the Lake George Region Student Connection, a program that offers support and guidance to newly arrived students. “Some are going to school to be doctors or teachers.”
Last year, New York state employers hosted 31,530 J-1 students, according to U.S. State Department figures.
Participants come to the United States to improve their language skills, earn money to send back home, and see the United States.
Some may remain on the job into October.
While Six Flags may be the largest single employer of J-1 visitors, hotels, restaurants and other tourist attractions also depend on them. While some with weak language skills might be employed as housekeepers or chambermaids, those with stronger language skills may staff front desks or work as waiters.
It’s not clear what the future holds for the J-1 visa. Efforts to restrict immigration continue at the national level. In the Glens Falls area, the unemployment rate in May hit an 11-year low for the month of 4.0 percent, according to state Labor Department data.
Blais said some students who had previously worked in the village couldn’t get visas this year. “But there seems to be as many or more than in the past,” the mayor said.
Six Flags Great Escape theme park in Lake George, which filled 1,500 jobs, employs college students from 12 countries. Capital Region hotels, restaurants and other tourist attractions also hire international employees.
International students in the United States on visa help keep the rides, including the Greezed Lightnin’, going at the Six Flags Great Escape theme park in Lake George. Village Mayor Robert Blais says his community’s labor supply is adequate with the influx of students in this country through the J-1 international student program.
Hotels on Canada Street in Lake George employ college students who are in the united States with J-1 visas.