Foreign workers are in a holding pattern

BAR HARBOR — Some local businesses that usually apply for visa programs to bring temporary foreign workers here for the tourist season have withdrawn those requests this year, in light of travel restrictions and uncertainty about what this summer season will bring. 

Others have workers who are already here, many of whom worked the winter season in ski resorts or other businesses whose seasons are just ending. 

The two visa programs used by local employers are called H-2B, which is for temporary non-agricultural workers, and J-1, which is for people who are full-time students in their home countries. 

The ski resorts are closing,” said Eben Salvatore of Bar Harbor Hotels, one of the two large hotel companies that operates in town, “so we have to decide if we want to risk (the H-2B workers) leaving the country and not being able to get them back.” 

The company is providing food and housing to the workers, he said. “Hopefully there’ll be a time that we’ll need them to get to work.” 

Witham Family Hotels arranged to bring a group of workers here on H-2B visas from a ski resort in Vermont, David Witham said in an email to Town Manager Cornell Knight March 19. 

“They have essentially been self-quarantined, as there has been no work for them,” he wrote. “We are in the process now of scheduling a charter bus to pick them up and they will be the only passengers and not at risk of what one might fear from air travel. 

The group will be housed in one of the closed hotels while renovations to seasonal housing are being finished, he said, and the company will offer a meal plan. 

Most of our out of country visa employees are currently unable to get into the United States due to various travel bans and for some, because the Jamaican Embassy is closed,” he wrote. 

We did have a visa petition for 20 J-1 students from Asia, but we withdrew from this petition as a precautionary measure for our company and the greater community, though at this time Asia is in a far better position in terms of this pandemic than the United States and Europe. 


Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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