Tom Brenner / The New York Times

Petrina Group International, led by a Cornell alumnus, helps seek foreign workers for Trump's resort.

August 22, 2017

Ithaca-Based Firm Recruits Foreign Labor to Mar-a-Lago

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While President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club may lie hundreds of miles remote from rainy Ithaca, a local firm has closed the gap.

Ithaca-based recruitment firm Petrina Group International works to hire foreign guest workers for the club. Founded in 2001 by Peter Petrina ’94, the company provides international staffing consulting services to clients in the private club industry and has offices in Ithaca and Romania.

Last month, Mar-a-Lago asked the Labor Department for permission to hire 70 temporary workers from overseas and requested visas from the government, according to The Washington Post.

Petrina finds foreign workers for Trump’s resorts, golf clubs and vineyard, looking for young people with hospitality experience, according to The Washington Post.

Petrina Group International did not respond to request for comment.

Since 2010, federal records show that nearly 300 American workers have applied to or been referred for jobs at Trump’s private club, but only 17 of those workers have been hired.

Instead, the club has relied on employing foreigners largely from Romania and Haiti, pursuing more than 500 visas for foreign workers, according to the United States Department of Labor.

The H-2B visas requested by Mar-a-Lago are commonly used for temporary, “less-skilled” workers in the seasonal hospitality industry, according to Prof. Ben Rissing, industrial and labor relations.

U.S. employers like Mar-a-Lago are legally mandated to advertise job openings at least twice in local newspapers to target U.S. workers. They then must report the number of local U.S. applicants to the federal government before they can be granted approval to hire foreign aid through H-2B visas.

Rissing said the primary concern with this regulation is the majority of it was written in a time before the internet.

“The current labor certification law has employers advertise primarily through physical newspapers or trade journals, which doesn’t really meet the reality of how workers typically search for jobs today,” he said. “With the employment-based green card, employers can place jobs … in a local newspaper in such a way that the actual advertising may not necessarily reach qualified and available U.S. workers.”

According to the Labor Department, Trump’s businesses have asked for guest-worker visas for at least 15 years.

Rissings commented that a number of firms use this type of visa for outsourcing purposes.

“A portion of U.S. firms seek out highly skilled immigrants, such as those with unique skills and graduate degrees,” he said.

However, other firms take the opposite approach in hiring.

“Another group of firms bring in a lot of immigrants on temporary visas and tend not to transition these workers onto permanent visas,” Rissings said. “So they bring immigrant workers in for a short period of time and pay them right at $60,000, which can avoid certain minimum advertising requirements targeting U.S. workers in some visa programs.

“These are employers that presumably might be able to find some of those skills in U.S. workers, but who see value in bringing in foreign workers for a short duration,” he added.

The timing of Mar-a-Lago’s visa requests for foreign recruits occurred last month during the “Made in America Week” at the White House, which incited controversy among critics.

Trump’s previous calls for tightened border restrictions on immigration, as well as his “Buy American, Hire American” executive order, seemed to some critics as antithetical to his own business hiring practices.

The number of guest workers has been growing in the U.S., according to The Washington Post, and labor advocates have accused employers of using cheap foreign labor to replace American workers.

However, Mar-a-Lago has maintained that they hire foreign workers only after they are unsuccessful in filling open positions with qualified American workers.