Magazine article The New Yorker

Mar-a-Lago Rules

Magazine article The New Yorker

Mar-a-Lago Rules

Article excerpt

Mar-a-Lago Rules

When it comes to America's technology industry, Donald Trump takes a dim view of foreign workers. "I will end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program"--it provides visas for technical and skilled employees--"and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers for every visa and immigration program," he said in a statement a year ago. "No exceptions."

When it comes to the hospitality industry, though, Trump is much more, well, hospitable. His Administration recently made it harder to get H1-B visas, but he has expressed no objection to the visa category that hotels and resorts use--the H-2B--to attract low-cost, low-skilled seasonal labor. In fact, at Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach club, the visas are still in active use. Why the exception to the no-exception rule?

Since the election, Trump has been using Mar-a-Lago as a weekend retreat, a situation room, a source of personal enrichment (the private club just raised its membership fee to two hundred thousand dollars), and a backdrop for press conferences and photo ops. Based on the frequency of Trump's visits to the opulent club since he took office, Mar-a-Lago appears to be a place--unlike Washington--where he feels at home. It is also a business that, for the past decade, has taken advantage of the H-2B program (distinct from the H-2A program, which is for agricultural workers).

Hospitality businesses like Mar-a-Lago argue that they can't find Americans to fill seasonal jobs at the wages they advertise. Trump himself has said that "getting help in Palm Beach during the season is almost impossible." Sandra Black, an economics professor at the University of Texas at Austin, suggests a possible remedy: increase the pay. "The idea that there's a worker shortage means the firm isn't raising wages," she says.

The sixty-four foreign dishwashers, cooks, cleaners, and gardeners that Mar-a-Lago is expected to employ this year will be paid per hour roughly what they were paid last year. (The Palm Beach Post reported that the range is around ten to thirteen dollars an hour.) The foreign workers brought in to help staff the club tend to come from two countries, Haiti and Romania, according to someone who works at Mar-a-Lago as an employee of an outside contractor. Other clubs and resorts nearby hire even more H-2B workers than Mar-a-Lago does. "It's very common in South Florida. He's not the only one," the person who works at Mar-a-Lago said. "But he is the President, and he has an example to set. …

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