If you’re looking for work this summer, you might just want to go to Maine.
Changes to the federal immigration laws that govern the ability of foreign workers to come to America and obtain seasonal employment have created a kind of labor shortage for cooks, waiters, bike shop workers, and other job staples during the Maine summer tourist season. The laws permit 33,000 people to obtain visa to do seasonal work in the United States, but the way in which those workers are counted has changed. Before, returning workers weren’t counted toward that 33,000 number; now they are. As a result, the 33,000 ceiling has already been reached, primarily by hiring in the southern states. Maine, where the season won’t really begin for a month or so, gets the short end of the stick.
Will the Maine businesses that used to hire foreign workers just close up shop? No, of course not — because it’s not a real labor shortage until the entrepreneurs that run those businesses try to address the issue through other means. If foreign workers aren’t available, maybe something can be done to attract non-foreign workers to fill the open jobs. So Maine businesses are looking at offering higher wages, flexible work schedules that might be appealing to older workers, and other approaches that will allow them to get the jobs done with locals. It’s a classic example of the law of supply and demand and the invisible hand at work (pun intended).
Of course, Maine’s elected representatives are attempting to change the law to reinstitute the exception for returning workers that will allow more foreign hiring to occur, because for local businesses it’s no doubt cheaper and easier to hire those workers than it is to recruit, train, and deal with locals who might be more demanding about pay and hours and other job conditions. But for now, at least, opportunity can be found in Maine, if you’re a kid, or a retiree, who’s willing to serve up lobster rolls or work in a bike shop or serve as a deck hand on a tour boat in order to put some extra dollars in your pocket.
As someone who left Columbus, Ohio and spent a wonderful summer working at the Alpine Village resort in Lake George, New York in 1976 — an experience you can read about here and here — I don’t think changes in our federal immigration laws that incentivize businesses to hire local teenagers and seniors for summer jobs is a bad thing. If the changes open the way for more American kids to get used to the concept of holding down a job, keeping the boss happy, earning a paycheck, and putting money in the bank, that’s a good thing in my book.