Employers Find Puerto Rico

Eunice Moscoso, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 18, 2008

Some American companies—facing a crackdown on hiring illegal immigrants and difficulties in using temporaryworker programs—are venturing south to solve their labor woes, to Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico is part of the United States, so its residents are American citizens.

It has been the focus of recruiting efforts in the past, especially for bilingual police officers and teachers, but the latest trend includes a greater variety of industries, such as hotels and resorts, hospitals, and meat-processing operations.

Luis De Rosa, president of the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce of South Florida, said requests from mainland companies to find workers on the island have increased significantly in the past three months, especially for seasonal employees.

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Recent inquiries include those from construction companies, hotels, vacation resorts, and hospitals looking for nurses, he said.

De Rosa said it’s a match made in heaven: Stateside companies get good, legal workers and Puerto Ricans earn money that they need. The unemployment rate on the island is about 10 percent, twice as high as on the U.S. mainland, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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Cargill Meat Solutions, a pork processor in Beardstown Ill., began recruiting workers from Puerto Rico last year.

They now have dozens of workers from the island, according to various news reports.

The Aspen Skiing Company, which operates four resorts in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, was in a bind last fall when a problem with its applications for H-2B visas for temporary workers left it without a complete staff for the tourist season. The solution: a recruiting trip to San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico.

Jeff Hanle, a spokesman for the company, said it was the first time that it had looked for workers on the island.

About 20 Puerto Rican men and women were recruited to work as maids, maintenance workers, and other hotel jobs.

They were all given discounted housing, much like other seasonal employees, Hanle said.

The situation was not ideal, however. The Puerto Ricans had a hard time adjusting to the snow and ice, making it unclear whether the company will use them as a “long-term solution,” he said.

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It could be the start of a trend, similar to the one that brought thousands of Puerto Rican workers to the garment factories in New York and other cities in the 1950s, he added.

Those workers were vital to the apparel industry and replaced immigrants from Eastern Europe, Chishti added.

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But Chishti also said that Puerto Rico, with its limited labor pool, cannot begin to solve all the U.S. needs for workers. Puerto Rico has 3.9 million people, of whom 20 percent are under 15 years old.

Meanwhile, the United States has an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants, many of them working, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

De Rosa, with the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce, said that the recruitment of workers in Puerto Rico is likely to escalate as the government continues to crack down on illegal immigration.

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