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Workshop helps businesses with complicated migrant worker hiring laws

Published: Monday, Aug. 22 2011 4:22 p.m. MDT

Carlos Ocadiz tells business owners in Salt Lake City that his office can help with H-2 visas for temporary workers.

Brian Nicholson, Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A Park City luxury vacation rentals company found through the federal e-verify program a couple of years ago that many of its job applicants could be in the United States illegally.

Resorts West doesn't hire those who don't pass that initial background check and had to scramble to hire housekeepers for the winter season. But takers were few.

"We can't find many people to drive up from the valley or anywhere," said Ben Wallace, assistant general manager.

Resorts West was among several businesses at a workshop Monday exploring the possibility of hiring legal migrant workers. The Salt Lake Chamber, Durham Jones & Pinegar law firm and the Nuevo Leon Migrant Attention Center based in Monterrey, Mexico, hosted the meeting. Industries represented included hotel/lodging, home construction and steel fabrication.

Another seminar is scheduled in Provo at 10 a.m. today at the Old Historic County Courthouse, 51 S. University Ave.

The Utah Legislature this year approved a bill to create a partnership with the state of Nuevo Leon to supply temporary workers to Utah and set up an immigration task force to study migrant labor issues.

HB466 was the least controversial of the several illegal immigration bills lawmakers passed.

"I think it made a huge gesture to say we want to play by the rules. We want to promote legal immigration," said Tim Wheelwright, an immigration attorney with Durham Jones & Pinegar.

One of the obstacles for employers to that end is the convoluted federal H-2 visa system for hiring agricultural and nonagricultural migrant workers. Its rules and processes constantly change, making it difficult for companies to navigate.

"When we talk about a broken immigration system, this is one of the examples of where the system is broken," he said.

Businesses must know weeks if not months in advance how many workers they'll need and when they'll need them. But farm crops, for example, don't follow a government schedule.

Employers also must advertise job openings and exhaust possibilities for hiring American workers before applying for migrant labor. They risk migrant workers not being available due to government caps after spending thousands of dollars on legal and application fees.

The Migrant Attention Center, a government office in the state of Nuevo Leon, has a good track for securing work visas through the U.S. consulate in Monterrey. About 84 percent of all H-2 visas worldwide go through Monterrey and the center has a 94 percent approval rate, said Carlos Ocadiz, a program consultant.

Since its inception in 2005, the migrant center has worked with 300 U.S. companies and has 16,000 workers in its database, he said. It provides a less dangerous and cheaper avenue for Mexicans to work in the U.S. than hiring "coyotes" to smuggle them across the border.

"It's easier and safer to use this program instead of using other ways to come to the United States to work," Ocadiz said.

About 98 percent of those who come to the U.S. through the center return to Mexico in accordance with their visas, which typically are good for four to 10 months.

The chamber will take a group of business leaders to Washington, D.C., next month to discuss immigration issues, including streamlining the work visa process, with Utah's congressional delegation and policy experts.

Email: romboy@desnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy

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