Aspen decides to end H2B visa program

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— The Aspen Skiing Co.'s decision not to use H2B visas to hire foreign ski and snowboard instructors has put several longtime employees in a bind, according to one of the pros affected.

The instructor said the decision was made so late by Skico that it will be almost impossible for 57 pros affected by the decision to find other teaching jobs. He also questioned whether Skico was using new government regulations as a convenient excuse to end the program.

Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said the timing was "unfortunate" but not controlled by Skico.

"Our hands are tied. We're not trying to screw anybody," Hanle said.

The instructor didn't want his name or any other identifying information used because he hopes to get a different kind of visa and return to Aspen or another resort to teach. He said he wanted to offer his perspective after reading newspaper accounts last week about Skico's decision on the H2B visa program.

"When Skico told us that the H2B visa program was canceled, that meant that there will be no winter for all those pros," the instructor said. "It's almost impossible to get a job anywhere in Europe right now for us, and (it) will be a great loss, economically and personally for us."

The timing, he said, adds insult to injury. "Skico knew that you apply for a job overseas in June, not in October," he said.

Skico announced last week that the recession and a reinterpretation of immigration regulations by the U.S. Department of Labor forced its decision not to use H2B visas to import ski instructors this winter.

Skico decided early in the year to reduce the number of instructors hired through the H2B visa program from 109 last season to 57 this season. However, the Labor Department announced Aug. 21 that employers using the H2B visa program must pay the transportation costs of workers.

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