Immigration bill could diminish Dells’ foreign workforce

Provisions make it much more expensive to hire summer employees from overseas
Immigration bill could diminish Dells’ foreign workforce

One trailer, two bathrooms, and five Finnish women. That’s the rooming situation this summer for Katariina Kulpakko.

“It’s the time you want to do something like this,” Kulpakko said. “So it’s really important. It’s a good chance for us to be able to come here.”

This is the second summer Kulpakko has lived and worked at the Tommy Bartlett Show. She serves snacks to tourists who come for the entertainment, and said there is plenty of time to explore the state and enjoy the summer.

“It’s fun. You know, working is fun,” Kulpakko said.

But that fun could come to an abrupt end if Congress passes the immigration bill as written. Part of it directly applies to J-1 visas, the program used to recruit and employ workers from across the globe.

Part of the bill would require the organizations that recruit college students for J-1 visas to pay a $500 fee per worker. That money would go toward border patrol.

Also, those companies would not be able to charge for any of the services they offer, which could set them back upwards of $1500.

Immigration bill could diminish Dells’ foreign workforce

Tom Diehl, owner of the Tommy Bartlett Show, said the international work travel program is a legitimate one, and he wrote letters to legislators pleading that case. He hired 35 young men and women from Finland for seasonal positions, which is almost a third of his total summer staff.

“Study the program, make the adjustments to it that you feel that are important, but don’t just abolish it or make it so cost prohibitive that these kids can’t come here,” Diehl said.

Diehl said he’s worried the $500 other companies need to shell out to the government would get passed on to the employers, something he said many businesses could not afford.

At the Wilderness Resort, Human Resources Director Shaun Tofson brought in 380 workers from overseas to fill positions this summer. She said it would be impossible to replace those employees if they were no longer available.

“It could potentially shut down smaller employers and pretty much devastate the larger employers,” Tofson said.

According to the area’s J-1 Consortium chair Stacie Tollaksen, about 2700 students come to the Dells every summer to work. She said there are 11,000 full time jobs to fill in the season.

Tofson said J-1 visas are also an opportunity for foreign employees to experience American culture, add to their resumes and improve their English.

“The program in and of itself was based on cultural diversity. That’s the first and foremost thing that we have to remember,” Tofson said.