Visas for the Hospitality Industry
- Business Immigration
by Natalie McQuilkin
With a $759 billion economic impact, the hospitality industry is a powerhouse for the U.S. economy. This industry encompasses a slew of businesses, from hotels and resorts to nightclubs and theme parks. One characteristic that sets this industry apart from others is its dependence on foreign-born workers.
A 2022 study called “Migrant mobility and value creation in hospitality labour” explains that “much of the international hospitality sector relies on immigrant workers, partly to fill gaps where domestic [labor] supply cannot meet demand, but also because migrants are seen to add value through their flexibility, cost and work ethic.” In 2018, foreign-born workers made up 19.5 percent of the hospitality workforce, according to New American Economy. These percentages were even higher in some states:
- In Nevada, foreign-born workers made up 37.3 percent of the hospitality workforce.
- Immigrants held 36.5 percent of the hospitality workforce jobs in California.
- Foreign-born workers make up about 34 percent of Hawaii’s hospitality workforce.
Because of the wide array of jobs offered by the leisure and hospitality sector, many migrants with different professional backgrounds can find the right fit for them at hotels, resorts, casinos, restaurants, bars, and more. An important way that employers can fill these available job opportunities is through work visas. Visas not only help fill temporary roles, but they also attract foreign nationals by providing the opportunity to gain work experience and higher pay that may not be available in their home country. These visas are so important to the industry that 33 percent of businesses would “close or reduce their operations if they could not hire workers through temporary visa programs,” according to New American Economy.
In this post, we’ll dive into the details of visas that are a great fit for the hospitality industry.
The H-1B Visa
The H-1B visa is a great option for employers interested in petitioning foreign nationals to perform a job that requires a unique, concentrated skill set. This visa accommodates foreign nationals with a specialized skill set, a bachelor’s degree, and further qualifications, such as certification, licensing, or a graduate degree. However, it’s important to keep in mind that there are specific requirements for the foreign national and the occupation to fit into the H-1B category.
According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the offered occupation has to be considered a “specialty occupation,” meaning that it has to meet the following stipulations:
- The job requires a bachelor’s degree, at minimum; and
- The occupation is “so complex or unique that it can be performed only by an individual with a degree.” 
If foreign nationals don’t meet the bachelor’s degree requirement, it’s also acceptable for them to hold an unrestricted state license, registration, or certification that enables them to practice the specialty occupation, according to USCIS. In the hospitality industry, this can be applied to managing a hotel, restaurant, nightclub, or resort events. It can also be applied to working as a sous chef or pastry chef. Some of the top businesses that petitioned for the H-1B visa in July 2023 included Marriott International, Inc.; Hilton; Choice Hotels International; Hyatt Corporation; Six Continents Hotels, Inc.; and Wyndham Vacation Ownership, Inc.
When petitioning for a foreign national, employers must provide a Labor Condition Application, which establishes that they will pay the H-1B worker a fair wage, and hiring foreign nationals won’t affect pay or job conditions for U.S. workers in the same jobs. Foreign nationals can stay for at least three years on this visa, and if necessary, the period of stay can even be extended to six years.  The long period of stay allows employers to hold onto vital workers and provide stable employment for the foreign national. Additionally, the foreign national’s spouse and unmarried children younger than 21 can be admitted into the U.S. on H-4 visas while the foreign national works in the U.S.
The H-2A Visa
The H-2A visa, which is geared toward temporary agricultural workers, can also be tied into the hospitality industry because the hospitality industry encompasses the restaurant industry. Restaurants, resorts, hotels, cruise ships, and any other event spaces are bolstered by the agricultural industry because they rely on it in order to serve fresh, appetizing meals.
Additionally, local agriculture can draw in the “culinary tourists,” according to the Hospitality Institute. The Institute explains that “[c]hefs are a critical part of the demand side of the value chain. They can influence the eating habits of both locals and visitors and create markets for local products while promoting our local cuisine and attracting a new type of tourist – foodie [travelers].”
Ensuring that there are enough people working in the agricultural sector ensures that the hospitality industry can stay afloat, too. The H-2A visa provides a way for companies to fill labor shortages during specific agricultural seasons. This visa requires employers to offer a seasonal or temporary job, establish that there are not enough U.S. workers to take on the offered job, and provide evidence that H-2A workers won’t affect the wages of U.S. workers in similar roles. As of June 30, 2023, the National Corn Growers Association petitioned more than 10,000 H-2A visas, followed by Fresh Harvest, Inc. with more than 7,000 visas, and Zirkle Fruit Company with more than 4,000 visas.
Petitioners must submit a temporary labor certification from the Department of Labor, and this certification typically determines the foreign national’s period of stay, which maxes out at three years. Those who receive an H-2A visa can bring their spouse or unmarried children younger than 21 to the U.S. under the H-4 nonimmigrant classification. 
The H-2B Visa
Designed to accommodate businesses needing to fill minimal-experience jobs, the H-2B visa is a great option for hotels, resorts, amusement parks, casinos, and restaurants where staffing needs vary over the course of a year. Businesses must fall under one of the following categories to petition a foreign national for the H-2B visa:
- Seasonal need: The employer requires additional employees during predictable, recurring, and high-traffic seasons to accommodate the expected influx of guests. However, this is not necessarily limited to the four seasons of the year. It can also pertain to “‘events’ tied to a season, such as the Christmas shopping season,” according to the Department of Labor.  For example, the employer can hire additional temporary employees to man the cash register in resort gift shops during the holiday season.
- Peak-load need: The employer needs to hire additional employees to help its staff for a short time or a season. The employer must also prove that there are permanent staff employed year-round, and that the temporary employees will not become part of the regular operation. One example is hiring additional employees during the winter to rent ski gear to patrons.
- Intermittent need: The employer occasionally needs to hire temporary employees for a short period of time, but the employer hasn’t used permanent, full-time staff for these tasks in the past. This could include hiring temporary workers to set up a venue for a large convention that is being held at a resort or hotel.
- One-time occurrence: An event requires the employer to hire additional, temporary employees for a short period of time. This could include hiring temporary waitstaff during a big event commemorating a resort’s 100th year of operation.
Like all the other H-type visas we have discussed in this post, the employer must submit the required documentation to show how hiring foreign nationals won’t affect U.S. workers’ wages or working conditions. The submitted labor certification will determine how long the foreign national can work at the job, but the maximum period of stay is three years. In total, 66,000 H-2B visas are made available each year, with 33,000 of H-2B visa workers beginning employment during the first half of the fiscal year (October 1 – March 31), and the other 33,000 H-2B visa workers starting their jobs during the second half of the fiscal year (April 1 – September 30).  Spouses and unmarried children younger than 21 can come to the U.S. with H-4 status while the H-1B worker has employment in the U.S.
Because this visa does not require specific experience, it’s a great option for hiring more dishwashers, housekeepers, receptionists, servers, custodians, customer service representatives, lifeguards, and more. USCIS reports that some of the top hospitality businesses who petitioned for H-2B visas in June 2023 included the Kiawah Inn, Yellowstone Club, Mackinaw Seasonal resorts, The Broadmoor Hotel, Inc., The Hyatt Corporation, The Breakers Palm Beach, Inc., and the Killington/Pico Ski Resort. 
The O-1 Visa
Employers or “U.S. agents” – those who act in place of the employer – can petition those with extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, athletics, or arts with the O-1 visa. This visa requires the foreign national to “demonstrate extraordinary ability by sustained national or international acclaim… and must be coming temporarily to the United States to continue work in the area of extraordinary ability,” according to USCIS. 
In regard to the hospitality industry, the O-1 visa can be used to hire a renowned chef at an upscale resort restaurant or an internationally acclaimed food scientist to enhance packaging techniques for food commonly sold at amusement parks.
The foreign national must be able to prove that he or she is at the top of the field. USCIS requires the petitioner to provide supporting documentation or comparable evidence to solidify the foreign nationals’ background and success in the respective field. The full list of what can be considered as supporting documentation or comparable evidence can be found here.
The O-1 visa permits the beneficiary to stay in the U.S. for up to three years, but this time period can be extended if the reason for the extension is approved.
The L-1A Visa
The L-1A visa allows businesses to transfer executives or managers from their foreign offices to one of their U.S.-based offices, or to even establish a new office in the United States. This visa is advantageous for the hospitality industry in several ways. It ensures that employers are using skilled, knowledgeable workers who have experience in their own business to manage existing or new branches of hotels, resorts, casinos, or restaurants in the United States. Hiring foreign nationals who are well-acquainted with existing company policies, practices, and business models eliminates the costly and time-consuming process of finding someone who is the right fit for an executive or managerial position. Moreover, executive and managerial positions include a variety of roles, from the director of marketing to the VP of sales, which expands the types of positions that can be used with the L-1A visa.
To petition a foreign national for this visa, the U.S.-based employer “the must be related to the original business of employment (as a branch, subsidiary, etc.) and operate or plan to operate in the United States while continuing to operate in at least one other country for the duration of the visa.” Foreign nationals can qualify for this visa if they have been working for the company for at least a year and if they will be working in an executive or managerial position in the United States. Although the initial period of stay is one year, this can be extended to seven years. Additionally, the foreign national’s spouse and unmarried children younger than 21 can be admitted into the U.S. with the L-2 visa.
How Do I Get Started?
If you’re interested in learning more about the many visas available for the hospitality industry or petitioning foreign nationals for a visa, schedule a consultation with Eagan Immigration’s business attorney, Hannah Whaley. Click this link to get started or call our office at (202) 709-6439.
 Peter Lugosi and Ann Ndiuini, Migrant mobility and value creation in hospitality labour, ANNALS OF TOURISM, vol. 95, Jul. 2022, Migrant mobility and value creation in hospitality labour – ScienceDirect.
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 H-1B Specialty Occupations, DOD Cooperative Research and Development Project Workers, and Fashion Models, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Sept. 15, 2023, H-1B Specialty Occupations, DOD Cooperative Research and Development Project Workers, and Fashion Models | USCIS, (last visited: Nov. 16, 2023).
 H-1B Specialty Occupations, DOD Cooperative Research and Development Project Workers, and Fashion Models, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Sept. 15, 2023, H-1B Specialty Occupations, DOD Cooperative Research and Development Project Workers, and Fashion Models | USCIS, (last visited: Nov. 8, 2023).
 The Role of Agriculture in the Hospitality Industry, Hospitality Institute, Feb. 27, 2018, The Role Of Agriculture in The Hospitality Industry – Hospitality Institute.
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