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Sunday, July 21, 2024


Foreign Workers Too Few to Fill Positions Across NJ 

David Bier

By Karen Knight

TRENTON – Employers in the U.S., New Jersey and Cape May County still have problems filling all their job openings despite more than 1 million temporary and seasonal workers coming into the country in 2021.
A Dec. 2 webinar, “The Urgent Need for Temporary Foreign Workers in New Jersey’s Economy,” was presented by The Garden State Immigration Policy Institute – a joint initiative of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, and the New Jersey Business Immigration Coalition. The webinar discussed issues faced by employers and workers with the goal of bringing “the best evidence forward to illuminate the topic to meet the best needs of the economy with a bipartisan consensus on migration issues.” 
 Temporary workers, according to industry leaders, fill important labor niches, which not only allow businesses and the economy to grow, they increase the demand for U.S. workers in other jobs, lower prices and improve services, expand the state’s tax base and make the state a more welcoming place for businesses to grow. In New Jersey, temporary foreign workers are employed in everything from agricultural to seasonal non-farm roles, from college students working at amusement parks, to professionals training in the medical field and other post-graduate work. There were 47,752 temporary workers hired across the state last year. 
National and state economic leaders speaking included Anthony Catanoso, president of the Steel Pier, Atlantic City; Laurie-Ann Flanagan, co-chair of the National H-2B Coalition (seasonal non-farm jobs); Peter Furey, executive director of the New Jersey Farm Bureau, and Lori Jenssen, executive director of the Jersey Nursey & Landscape Association.  
“Labor Force shortages have adversely affected many industries in New Jersey,” according to the institute. Although an increase in the number of permanent visas might be one solution, another strategy is to open up more legal opportunities for foreign-born people to do temporary or seasonal work. 
“Throughout American history, many foreigners – not willing to leave their home countries permanently – have shown a preference for this kind of work,” the institute said. “At the same time, many industries in the U.S., especially agriculture, meatpacking, dairy farming, travel and tourism, landscaping, construction and the restaurant industries, are often dependent on this type of labor.” 
The webinar speakers examined current admission numbers for temporary foreign workers, whether existing programs meet the needs of employers, whether workers themselves are treated fairly, and what can be done to create win-win situations for both employers and migrants, as well as the economy, as a whole. 
Two-thirds Seasonal Jobs Unfilled Statewide
More than two-thirds of temporary/seasonal jobs in the state go unfilled, according to David Bier, associate director of immigration studies at the Cato Institute (, and a national expert presenting at the webinar. 
He said, in the state, the average monthly job openings continue to increase while the average number of monthly jobs filled continues to decrease because there are too few unemployed workers willing to fill the openings. 
“Temporary workers are important to the state because they fill important niches, allowing businesses and the economy to grow,” Bier said.
Affordable Housing An Issue Locally 
In the area of amusement parks, Catanoso said the Steel Pier ( hires 400 full-time seasonal employees. 
“When we open around Easter, we have 100% local employees,” he said, “mostly high school students. But when we open full-time and run two shifts, we do not have enough workers in the area to meet our needs.” 
They need 150 international students to work among the 25 rides and attractions, 14 games and 13 food stands, along with retail shops at the Steel Pier. This past summer, they were able to hire 90. 
Catanoso said that even if all the graduates of the high schools in Cape May County and all the graduates from the Atlantic City high school were hired, there still would not be enough people to fill all the openings at the Steel Pier and Morey’s Water Parks in Wildwood. 
Efforts to reach a spokesperson at Morey’s were unsuccessful, but in the past, Morey’s reported having 1,500 available summer positions with about one-third filled by J-1 students. 
There were 2,008 J-1 students employed across the state during 2021, down from a high of 5,317 in 2016, but up from a low of 245 in 2020. 
“If we don’t have enough employees, then we have to reduce or shut down our attractions,” Catanoso added. 
The pandemic years of 2020-21 hurt his business because international students were unable to travel or have visa interviews, thus jobs were vacant, so attractions and hours of operation were impacted. 
The issue facing these workers in Cape May County and surrounding areas is affordable housing. “We’ve seen affordable housing evaporate,” Catanoso said. “Some employers are providing housing or working with the students to help them find housing. We need to help more here.” 
Cap for Non-Farm Workers Needs to be Eliminated 
Under the H-2B seasonal non-farm program, Flanagan said the number of workers allowed is capped at 66,000., which is not enough to fill temporary openings in hotels, forestry, at golf courses, and in the equine industry. Employers work with four different agencies so the hiring process is “expensive and not easy.” She hopes a long-term solution can be met to fill all the openings and make the hiring process less arduous for employers. 
Because the selection of workers is done by lottery, the workforce is not as stable as employers would like. Employers spend time and energy training employees, not knowing if they will return the following year, Flanagan said. During the application process, Flanagan said employers must prove their temporary need and prove they looked at the local market for employees.  
“We would eliminate returning workers from the cap because they have already proved themselves,” she explained. “These foreign workers are not taking jobs away from U.S. workers.” 
According to Flanagan, the U.S. Department of Labor sets the wage scale, employees are paid $18-$20-plus an hour.
“The worker maintains their roots with their home country, while allowing them to provide better for their family. They are treated well, there are few labor law violations,” she said. 
There were 3,881 H-2B jobs certified by the labor department for workers across the state in 2021. 
Farming Industry Seeks Reform 
Furey hopes to see reform for the farming industry at the federal level so farmers can fill all their openings in a less expensive and less arduous process. Wages are higher than the market rate, so workers are productive, and return home after completing their work. 
Recognizing the critical need for immigrant labor to expand crop production in the U.S. and to keep food prices down, the coalition has urged passage of the Farm Workforce Modernization Bill ( The bill has passed in the House of Representatives and awaits review and approval in the Senate. It streamlines the application process for H-2B workers and allows undocumented farmworkers, who presently constitute a majority of the nation’s 2.4 million farmworkers, to apply for legal status in the U.S. if they can satisfy certain conditions, such as working a minimum number of years in American agriculture.  
In the 2017 Census of Agriculture survey, done every five years, there were 164 farms in Cape May County covering 8,135 acres. Ninety-five of those were family farms, and 26 hired farm labor. 
 The 2022 Cape May County Tourism Book ( showed 3,662 acres of farmland across the county. 
Non-Farm Job Openings Unfilled 
Jenssen said the state is fifth in the nation for nursery sales and derives a large amount of revenue from the sale of fruits, vegetables, landscaping services and other non-farming areas.  
“Our biggest problem is that it is difficult to get locals to perform the work we need,” she said. “We have apprenticeships, work with the Future Farmers of America organization, but still don’t have enough. The program has a lot of paperwork and is very expensive for employers, but they need the workers so they make the effort. Only in the end to often not get their workers in time. Our business owners are signing contracts now for next year, but they are not sure they will even have the employees they need.” 
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