Lack of visa workers cost Rapid City hotels thousands of dollars

RAPID CITY, S.D, (KOTA TV) - With hundreds of thousands of tourists coming to the Black Hills, businesses need plenty of workers to take the cooking and cleaning jobs.

Yavuz Yazgin, a J-1 visa worker from Turkey, dresses a bed at Days Inn in Rapid City. (KOTA TV)

But for the last few years, businesses are suffering by not being able to hire enough visa workers for the season.

Days Inn, Comfort Suites and Quality Inn in Rapid City lost $10,000 last year, according to Director of Sales Eric Brekke, because there were not enough workers to clean all the hotel rooms.

Brekke said it's getting more difficult to attain H-2B visa workers year after year since the government changed the process three years ago.

"Instead of first come, first serve when you put your application in, now it's wait and then they pull certain amount of properties out of a pool and if you get them, you get them and if you don't, you don't," Brekke said.

Brekke said the lottery system is a problem because employers are in limbo for about three months as they wait to hear back.

He says recently Quality Inn lost some local employees because most workers found better paying jobs.

"During the summer months in Rapid City, our employment rate drops below two percent. There is no body to hire. We even try alternative methods. We employ Black Hills Works and they struggle to hire case workers," Brekke said.

Brekke said they have about 26 visa workers in total right now and about 80 percent are J-1 workers.

J-1 visas are easier to get because it encompasses more jobs but J-1 workers only stay for about three to four months.

One of the J-1 workers at the Days Inn comes from Turkey and says he likes how he gets a taste of the Black Hills while being able to earn an income.

"You are going to another country, that country doesn't know you. So if you don't have visa, you just come here, go somewhere then come back, they wouldn't have your information that well. With visa they have your information. They got your back while following you," Yavuz Yazgin, a J-1 visa worker, said.

The Department of Homeland Security only approves 66,000 H-2B visa workers a year.

In early May, the Trump Administration made an additional 30,000 H-2B visas available for seasonal work through the end of September. But they are only available to returning workers who received the permit over the last three fiscal years.