A recent move by leaders in the local labor, government and casino industries will see an increase in jobs available for Atlantic City residents. The proposal seeks to reduce the number of J-1 visa workers who have long occupied many jobs in AC casinos.
Following a tough year economically for New Jersey and Atlantic City residents, this news is certainly welcomed by locals. The number of J-1 workers in casinos changes on a yearly basis, but the expectation is that there are ‘several hundred’ positions available.
The J-1 Summer work travel program invites students from around the world to come and work in the US for 3 months. This program has been instrumental in keeping many businesses in New Jersey going in summer months, plugging gaps which couldn’t be filled by locals.
Whether this is being done in the interest of Atlantic City residents or not remains to be seen. It will look great of course for Mayor Small to boost local jobs, but there is more to this move. Casinos have found it hard to get J-1 students owing to longer processing time. This comes following many restrictions which the Trump administration has placed on immigration.
Despite criticism over the processing of J-1 students, Nathan Arnold, spokesman for the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, insists there are no problems.
“We encourage students to continue to apply and employers to work with local sponsors to place students on the Summer Work Travel program,”
There have been concerns for some time as to whether or not J-1 students are positive for New Jersey and AC. Whilst some criticize the visa program has taking jobs away from Atlantic City residents, others stress their importance too the community. Vicki Clark, president of Cape May County Chamber of Commerce, stressed the importance of these students:
“The concern was that the program was causing economic hardship for locals, that J-1 Summer Work Travel took local jobs, we were explaining to them that it actually created and preserves jobs.”
Last year New Jersey hired 5,083 J-1 students, compared with 5,371 in 2018, they cover seasonal positions in amusement parks, hotels, restaurants and resorts.
Casinos have been hit and miss so far this year in looking after local workers. We spoke back in March about how the casinos extended health benefits to workers. This however was dismissed by unions who claimed the casinos turned their backs on workers, as we reported in April.
The strength of the unions however has been made clear in recent months. Just last month we broke that AC casino workers will get better healthcare moving forward. The unions have also been instrumental in this deal regarding additional job positions.
One clear benefit of what we are seeing here has been the collective approach to increase job positions. Working with Unite Here Local 54, the Casino Association of New Jersey and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, the local government have shown a clear desire to boost job opportunities for Atlantic City residents.
This plan actually came about long before the casino industry was impacted by forced closures this year. Mayor Marty Small Sr. actually went to the casino industry early in the year to secure an increase of jobs for Atlantic City residents. Small added last week that he was “happy” that this was going to happen.
Plan of Attack
Regardless of whether this is down to J-1 student processing or a genuine desire to get Atlantic City residents into the casinos, the plan is certainly forging ahead. Hard Rock Hotel & Casino co-owner Joe Jingoli spoke about how the plan was ‘warmly received’ by other casino owners.
In a further statement Jingoli reinforced the casino’s commitment to change:
“There’s going to be some pain, and it’s pain that should have happened 30 years ago, we’re going to have to deal with that now. And we’ll keep going until we get this right.”
The plan is to get vocational workers trained and in place by Spring 2021. These training programs will be launched in September of this year. There will also be a local drive to encourage residents to get involved. There is also a great deal of optimism that many of the vacancies which the casinos currently have, will be filled by the time winter comes.
Mayor Small Sr has spoken about his awareness of the city’s shortcomings, but is clearly focused on the solution rather than the problem:
“We’re not about finger-pointing. We’re moving forward and creating opportunities.”