When Donald Trump was pressed earlier this year about why he chose to import hundreds of foreign workers over the past decade for jobs as waitresses and housekeepers at his exclusive Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, the presidential candidate basically said he had no choice.
Tom Veenstra doesn’t see it that way. “We have a lot of people in our database that would be good candidates for a lot of those hospitality positions there,” Veenstra, a senior director for a Palm Beach career services center chartered by the state of Florida to help local workers get jobs, said. His staff met almost three months ago with Mar-a-Lago officials about “what we could do” to help them find workers, he said. “We work with an awful lot of hotels and high-end resorts.”
But so far, he said, Trump’s resort, which features landscaped gardens and an “incredible beach and pool facility,” has used his center to recruit workers for exactly one job, a banquet server. The agency referred four local workers, he said, and Mar-a-Lago hired one.
A bedrock principle of the H-2 visa program — which Trump’s Mar-a-Lago has used to bring in overseas workers — is that no American worker should ever be deprived of a job in favor of a foreign guest worker. Companies are required by law to take certain steps to show that they have tried but failed to find American workers before they can be approved for visas for foreign workers. But a BuzzFeed News investigation published this week found that many companies that bring in guest workers go to extraordinary lengths to avoid hiring American workers so they can bring in foreign workers on H-2 visas instead.
Trump’s club appears to have followed recruitment rules. When the Mar-a-Lago has openings for which it hopes to bring in foreign workers, it has first posted those positions in the state online job board and in ads with the Palm Beach Post, steps that are required by law.
But despite Trump’s rhetoric on the campaign trail to “Put American Workers First,” Mar-a-Lago has not — with one exception this fall — availed itself of the local career center to find U.S. workers, officials there said, instead relying on foreign workers.
An executive at the Mar-a-Lago said she could not answer questions about the club’s hiring practices, and referred calls to Trump headquarters in New York, where no one could immediately be reached. Trump campaign officials could also not be reached for comment.
In contrast to the Mar-a-Lago, Veenstra said, 123 other hotels, resorts and clubs — including chains such as Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt — had placed job orders with the local agency in 2014, resulting in 1,407 local workers being hired.
“I can only tell you,” Veenstra added, that “we have hundreds of people in our database that would qualify for a lot of those hospitality jobs.”
Since 2003, companies owned by Trump, including Mar-a-Lago, have been approved for at least 976 H-2 visas for foreign guest workers, an analysis of federal data shows. At least 374 of those were for waiters, 271 for cooks, and 275 for housekeepers — all jobs which Trump’s companies asserted they couldn’t fill with Americans. In 2015, waiters at Mar-a-Lago would make $10.99 an hour, cooks $13.01, and housekeepers $10.07, according to documents the resort filed with the government.
Jessica Garrison is a senior investigative editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
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