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Valerie Muspratt, of France, has been ski instructing in Vail the past three seasons on an H-2B visa but won't be able to return this season due to the inability of Congress to deal with legal work-visa shortages because of the controversy over illegal immigration reform.
Valerie Muspratt, of France, has been ski instructing in Vail the past three seasons on an H-2B visa but won't be able to return this season due to the inability of Congress to deal with legal work-visa shortages because of the controversy over illegal immigration reform.
Courtesy of Valerie Muspratt 
Ski-resort work-visa crisis stymies Vail, puts lives in flux around the globe
By David O. Williams

August 11, 2008 — Valerie Muspratt is 30 years old, French, and lives during the warm-weather months in the famous southern part of her country. She has been working for a decade now in the ski industry – the last three of those seasons on a work visa in Vail – and last winter she earned a base salary of about $20 an hour. Whatever you do, though, don’t call her a “ski bum.”

Muspratt and the ski resorts she works for consider her a highly skilled seasonal worker worthy of returning year after year to teach people from around the globe how to ski. She is quite proud of her hard-earned skill as a certified instructor and clearly loves her work, but she won’t be returning to Vail this coming ski season – mainly due to gridlock in Congress over immigration reform.

“I entirely blame the government, because they didn't listen to the concerns of the ski resorts, and that it's really not an immigration problem,” Muspratt wrote in an e-mail. “The election is on the way, so ‘let's not change a thing and leave our mess to the next government.’”

That may seem to some like the disgruntled opinion of a foreign worker who has enjoyed the fruits of the American economy, but the fact is that many politicians on the both sides of the aisle agree with Muspratt.

For years there has been talk of increasing the cap of 33,000 winter-season H2B visas available to the ski and tourism industries because of the high demand for workers and inability to find skilled domestic labor, and, in fact, an exemption keeping returning H-2B workers from counting against that cap used to be automatic.

Now even that exemption has been politicized by the larger immigration reform debate, even though H-2B visas go to legal workers who return to their home country after the ski season is up. The 33,000 cap was reached at the end of last month, and reportedly many Colorado ski resorts weren’t even close to realizing their quotas. Vail Resorts reportedly targets around 2,000 of the visas as a share of its overall workforce of 15,000 at its five ski mountains.

“I don't think us, the foreigners, steal American jobs in the ski resorts,” Muspratt said. “If we were better paid, it would still not be an attractive job for Americans who often have the goal of making more money. I hear very often this sentence, ‘So, do you have a real job?’”

Vail officials say they’re confident they will be able to fill the ranks with a variety of other recruiting tactics, including shorter term student visas, but the ski company is still focused on finding a long-term fix to the ongoing H-2B crisis.

“At this point, it looks like many of our talented international employees won't be able to join us this winter season,” Vail Resorts corporate spokeswoman Kelly Ladyga said. “We will continue to work diligently to get this situation resolved for the long-term and bring these employees back the next season.”

But for Muspratt and many other workers, fixing the work-visa crisis for the season after next may be too late.

“I'm very confused because I can't make plans ahead,” she said. “If I get my visa for 2009-10, will I still be available to go back to Vail? If I don't get it, well, it'll be a big disappointment and I'll have to definitely change plans, I guess. Working with Vail Snowsports School is like working with your family, and it kills me not to be able to go back to say how grateful I am to everyone there.”

Muspratt earned her Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) certification last season in Vail, something that’s essentially useless teaching in Europe or anywhere else in the world.

Geraldine Link, director of public policy for the National Ski Areas Association, said there is still hope that some foreign workers can be salvaged for the coming ski season.

“We are continuing to lobby Congress for a returning worker exemption,” Link said. “We are hoping to move it in September when Congress returns from August recess. If Congress passes a (returning worker exemption), resorts that have completed the labor certification phase of the process will be able to submit petitions to (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) for returning workers in time to get those employees before the crucial holiday period.”

 

 

Comment on article  11 Comments on "Ski-resort work-visa crisis stymies Vail, puts lives in flux around the globe "

 

Michael Patmas — August 11, 2008

The essence of the article is correct but there is a major techical error. There are 3 levels of instructor certification offered by Professional Ski Instructors of America. Author David Williams failed to indicate which level Valerie has earned. Level one is an entry level certification which qualifies you to teach entry level and novice skiers. Level 2 certifies competency to teach through the intermediate level. Level 3 (full certification) indicates proficiency to teach through the advanced and expert levels and is recognized by the International Ski Instructors Association. To say that PSIA certification is "essentially useless" is completely false. PSIA Level 3 certfication is respected and recognized internationally.
Michael A. Patmas, MD
PSIA Alpine Certified Level 3
Eagle, Idaho

 

#1 Michael Patmas Fan — August 11, 2008

I respect you, Michael.

 

"Reality Check for Michael" — August 12, 2008

Michael, try to get into an "Ecole du ski francais" hill in France with your PSIA certification. While I wouldn't characterize PSIA certification as "completely useless"- it still doesn't cut it with the French!

 

Cait — August 13, 2008

Val has her TA and is Trainer Accredited within PSIA-RM and is recognized as an instructor trainer. Her trainers accreditation is above and beyond full certification which is Level 3.

Val's friend and coworker,
Cait
Vail, Colorado

 

VALERIE MUSPRATT — August 18, 2008

I got my Trainer's accreditation from PSIA last April. As Cait said. Te journalist just forgot to mention it.
I'm fully certified in France and what I ment is that the TA doesn't exist in France, and the french PSIA is very closed for ski instructors who don't come from a racing background.

The french cert includes skiing, snowboarding and skiing out of the boundaries (with a beacon, shovel & probe). That's why it's almost impossible for an American to work in France even with a ski level 3.

 

looking good — August 18, 2008

A real easy solution marry me.

 

lars — August 19, 2008

these french guys rule

 

Ahem — August 19, 2008

How easy should it be for US companies to hire foreigners over US citizens? You're right: it should not be easy at all, and it should be borderline impossible. I can't believe I am saying this, but thank you US government.

 

Ahem — August 19, 2008

PS - The posts above about ski teacher accreditation etc . . . goodness, talk about chasing shadows!

 

Cherz — September 9, 2008

"last winter she earned a base salary of about $20 an hour"

I don't think us, the foreigners, steal American jobs in the ski resorts, Muspratt said. If we were better paid, it would still not be an attractive job for Americans who often have the goal of making more money."

What an amazing remark. I know several Americans who would be thrilled with $20/hr.

 

A different David Williams — March 4, 2009

In reference to Worker Visas: Employers should be able to hire whomever they want and make the case or exemptions for their foreign seasonal employees. Abusers of that system should be punished heavily and prosecuted expeditiously. Enforce the laws we have and don't make new damn laws!!!

In reference to level 3 PSIA in France:
I find it hard to believe that if you spoke French, (or even Italian, Spanish or German) in addition to English and had your PSIA Level 3, it would be difficult to get a job at a resort in France. You might not be at a high level to start but I seriously doubt you'd be turned away. Within the first season you'd be accepted and proficient in a the method of teaching that would satisfy your French supervisor and you'd be an asset at their resort, much like Valerie probably is at Vail. I looked over the entire ESF website and I don't see anything in there a recently certified PSIA-W Level 3 couldn't handle.

In reference to $20 an hour:
In this industry, you typically only get paid when you are "in a lesson". Sometimes you can only work 2 or 3 hours in a day. Sometimes less. It's not like you're able to consistently work 8 hour days like a regular job; so in the Ski school industry, $20 bucks an hour is not much. Where I work as a Level 2 PSIA instructor in California, my base is about 15 but I only make a decent living if I am getting personally requested by private students frequently. "Private Requests" pay much more than $20 an hour; however, this is skilled labor we're talking about when we get up to level 3 and children's specialists etc. Few of the typical job-seeking Americans are able to perform at this level. I don't know about the inter-mountain division but the Western Division of PSIA has very stringent testing and evaluation requirements for level 3 and I personally don't know anyone who has gotten their level 3 in the last several years who is not a full-time professional instructor and can handle any type of skiing.

I think you should get the job if you are qualified for the job. The most qualified person should get the job. Usefulness in this industry are not just based on certifications and upper-mountain skiing ability. Personality, mountain familiarization and customer support skills are extremely important factors for Ski School Supervisors to take into consideration as well.

David B. Williams Jr.
PSIA L2

 

 

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