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Cutback on worker visas hits Mackinaw City restaurant owner hard

Courtesy of Darrow's Family Restaurant
The sign outside Darrow's Family Restaurant in Mackinaw City. The restaurant has relied on the same crew of Jamaican workers on H-2B visas for years.


One of the promises President Donald Trump built his campaign on, and a promise he continues to repeat, is bringing jobs back to the United States.

But many employers say it’s workers they need. All across Michigan, businesses are constantly struggling to fill openings.

That pressure is particularly acute on Mackinac Island and Mackinaw City. Many popular hotels and restaurants there rely heavily on foreign workers who enter the country on H-2B visas.

Tracy Darrow, owner of Darrow’s Family Restaurant in Mackinaw City, is one of those employers. Darrow said qualified workers just aren't available in the area, and she's depended heavily on H-2B recipients for years. 

But last year, Congress decided not to renew the visas of previous recipients, lumping that population in with those who submit fresh applications each year. That created a chokepoint in a system with a cap on total visas. Without the usual boost to her summer workforce, Darrow's staff was stretched thin.

“Our people were working seven days a week since we had opened, some of them 12-15 hours a day.” Darrow said. “We actually had considered shutting down one day a week, just so that the cooks and the kitchen staff could get a day off.”

The federal government eventually opened up additional H-2B visa slots, but workers didn't arrive until late July.

To hear more about Darrow's experience with labor shortages in Northern Michigan, listen to the full conversation above.

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