Businesses dependent on seasonal foreign workers might have trouble hiring enough this summer to fill the tourism-fueled surge in demand because housing availability is slim-to-none, island employers say.
“Alliance Abroad is not providing housing for our J-1 programs this year,” said Spencer Priest, general manager of the DoubleTree hotel, 1702 Seawall Blvd., referring to a firm that recruits the workers.
“So, they’re looking to the employer to find housing,” he said. “It’s very concerning, so a lot of businesses may not get the seasonal workers. It doesn’t look good for a lot of us.”
Alliance Abroad Group is an Austin-based work-exchange company that offers workers a chance at employment in other countries. Alliance Abroad representatives didn’t return requests for comment Tuesday or Wednesday.
The J-1 classification for exchange visitors is authorized for those who intend to participate in an approved program for the purpose of teaching, studying, observing, conducting research, consulting, demonstrating special skills, or receiving training, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
“We are a seasonal economy, and we’ve had very good results with the service industry and Beach Patrol with J-1 workers,” David Collins, city councilman, said.
“We’re very fond of them,” he said. “It’s a summer job, and a lot are college students. We felt the impact when we couldn’t have them during COVID, and we could be in for a rough summer.”
The local J-1 program hangs in the balance simply because there isn’t enough housing on the island, Jerri Hamachek, Moody Gardens marketing director, said.
“Last year was more troublesome in trying to get them housing because it’s just not available,” she said. “It does pose some challenges for us and others on the island — that program has been very helpful for us.”
The myriad attractions at Moody Garden, 1 Hope Blvd., require about 300 summer hirings to meet the rise in demand, she said.
Moody Gardens’ human resources department is more aggressively recruiting Galveston County residents to fill the surge in demand, sending representatives to local colleges to get the word out, Hamachek said.
It’s too early to know whether a housing shortage will undermine island businesses’ efforts to fill the employee demand surge, she said.
“We’re going to keep after it and do our very best,” she said. “We’re going to do all we can do to fill those positions. We had a successful summer, so we hope we can carry that on into this year.”
The Galveston Beach Patrol each year hires about 25 Colombian students to join the lifeguard ranks, and island swimmers would be in far more peril without them, Chief Peter Davis said.
“I think we would see more drownings if not for them,” he said. “Galveston would be looking at a whole different situation without them.”
“We have a seasonal window of seven months, and that starts this weekend,” he said.
When the Beach Patrol originally went to Alliance Abroad to find student-workers, the organization sought to strike a deal with a Spanish-speaking country to help communicate with the island’s Spanish-speaking tourists, Davis said.
Most of these student-workers are actually in graduate school, meaning they’re often quite mature and brimming with people skills, he said.
“We’ve got some senior lifeguards that have been here for seven years, and some who have gotten their citizenship here,” he said.
If Galveston employers choose to use foreign workers in order to save money then they should provide housing for those workers
Welcome to the discussion.
Internet forum rules ...
Real names required. No pseudonyms or partial names allowed. Stand behind what you post.
Keep it clean. Don't use obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be truthful. Don’t knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be brief. Keep posts to 150 words or less.
Edit yourself. No more than two posts per thread and stay on topic. Do not link to sites outside galvnews.com.
Be aware. All posts are property of The Daily News and may be republished in print.
Be proactive. Use the "Report" link on each comment to let us know of rule violations.