Vail Resorts Increasingly Turn to J-1 Visa Exchange Program for Cheap Labor, Leaving Locals in Lurk

Katelyn Welsh and Nancy Vazquez investigate how local ski resorts increasingly use J-1 exchange visa holders, and new legal action potentially changing overall dynamics of how these mountain businesses operate.

A lift attendant rakes the ice at a Northstar Resort ski lift during the 2022 season. Lift attendants, rental attendants and scanners are common entry level positions for J-1 visa holders.
Number of J-1 visa holders that enter the country each year, broken down by state. Photo courtesy of BridgeUSA.
Carolina and friends posing in front of the Big Spring Express Gondola at Northstar with all of their gear. Another day of usual work for J-1 workers. Photo courtesy of Carolina, used with permission.
Carolina making a snow angel at Northstar during her second season as a J-1 visa holder. Photo taken by Carolina with permission to use.
Carolina poses with coworkers where she worked as a ticker scanner. Photo taken by Carolina with permission to use.
A notice of the class action lawsuit against Vail Resorts due to their alleged violation of state and federal wage and hour laws. Screenshot by Katelyn Welsh
Email response after emailing the address listed on Mateo Garcia’s job offer. The job offer was dated October 27, 2021.
The link titled, “Important Information & Helpful Links for Employee Housing @ Vail Resorts,” brought us to a list of Vail resorts that offer employee housing. Northstar was on the list.
Placer County Recorder’s website listing the deed in which Northstar sold its apartment complex to a third party around the time Vail bought the local mountain resort.
Mateo Garcia, a J-1 visa holder who worked for Northstar this winter, revisits one of the places he rented in Kings Beach, California. Garcia has had to move three times since arriving in December. Photo by Katelyn Welsh

Reporting by Katelyn Welsh and Nancy Vazquez for the Reynolds Sandbox

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