For years, President Donald Trump has insisted it’s impossible to find Americans to fill seasonal jobs at his hotels, resorts, and wineries, leaving him no choice but to hire foreign guest workers instead.
“You can’t get help,” he has said.
But government records obtained by BuzzFeed News reveal for the first time that at least 58 US workers applied for the temporary jobs as cooks, servers, and housekeepers at Mar-a-Lago and other Trump resorts from early 2014 through mid-2018.
Only one of them appears to have been hired.
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Instead of giving jobs to local workers, the Trump properties applied for permission to bring in more than 375 low-wage workers from abroad on short-term visas. All of the requests were approved by the Department of Labor, the records, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, show.
Since being elected, President Trump has held himself up as a fierce defender of American jobs. He has pressured companies to keep struggling US plants open, enacted tariffs against China, and threatened to close the border with Mexico. Earlier this month, Trump complained about the influx of undocumented immigrants from south of the border. “Our country is full,” he said. “Can’t take you anymore, I’m sorry.”
Yet throughout that time, he has continued a practice — started more than a decade ago — of staffing his high-end resorts with foreign workers. Businesses owned by or bearing the name Trump have sought to hire more than 600 employees through the guest worker program, known as the H-2 visa, since he launched his presidential campaign in June 2015.
Most recently, the Trump Winery in Virginia, which is operated by Eric Trump, applied for 23 of the controversial visas for seasonal workers. Between Mar-a-Lago and three of his Trump National Golf Clubs, Trump’s highest-profile resorts apply for a total of around 100 guest worker visas per year, government records show.
Before getting permission to hire workers from outside the US, employers are required to seek local applicants by advertising the jobs in local newspapers and with government-run job recruitment centers. The ads are placed several months or more before the start date for the job, and employers are not required to advertise online. Records indicate the Trump properties complied with the recruiting rules, and year after year told the Labor Department that “there are not enough US workers to consider and hire.”
A White House official contacted BuzzFeed News to direct inquiries to the Trump Organization, which, along with Mar-a-Lago, did not respond to requests for comment.
The records furnished by the Labor Department include recruitment reports accompanying 19 different H-2 petitions submitted by three different Trump properties: Mar-a-Lago; the Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida; and the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. BuzzFeed News also received several other visa petitions from these Trump properties, but they did not include recruitment reports.
The records released by the Labor Department are heavily redacted and do not identify any applicants by name.
The Trump properties offered the Labor Department a variety of reasons for rejecting the US applicants, including that candidates were “not interested” or did “not meet the minimum experience requirement,” or that they did not return the company’s phone calls. In seven petitions’ recruitment reports, the properties’ representatives said that zero US workers had applied.
A yearlong investigation by BuzzFeed News found that in many industries with seasonal staffing needs, employers prefer to hire foreign guest workers because they are seen as more compliant — less likely to quit for another job or to complain about low pay, physically demanding tasks, or difficult schedules. Unlike Americans who commute to their jobs and may have families and other demands on their time, guest workers are often housed on the job site and are therefore able to work longer hours.
Regulators have frequently caught employers discriminating against American applicants, forcing them to pass grueling physical or academic tests that foreign workers do not have to take, advertising for jobs in newspapers hundreds or thousands of miles from the worksite in order to reduce the chance that anyone will apply, and posting stiffer educational and experience requirements than the job actually requires.
The Trump properties’ US job postings required three or six months’ prior relevant work experience, as well as that the candidate have “no visible tattoos or piercings.” Applicants, who are asked to commit to temporary jobs months in advance, are also asked to “be available to work split-shifts, nights, weekends & holidays” for shifts that could start as early as 7 a.m. or as late as 11 p.m., “7 days per week.”
Such restrictions can serve as a disincentive to US job seekers, discouraging them from ever applying in the first place, particularly at a time when unemployment rates in Palm Beach County, Florida, where Mar-a-Lago is located, have dipped below 4%.
There is no public record of Trump properties incurring any penalties related to the H-2 program.
But a 2011 Palm Beach Post article noted that Mar-a-Lago failed to share postings for 90 open positions with a local nonprofit that helps unemployed Americans find jobs. Meanwhile, the club placed newspaper advertisements asking that applicants for housekeeper jobs have high school diplomas, a highly unusual requirement for such a position.
Mar-a-Lago no longer includes an educational requirement for housekeeping positions — which paid $10.68 an hour for the most recent season — but it does require three months’ prior experience “in luxury hospitality setting” and that candidates be “articulate in English.”
According to media reports, Trump properties have also employed undocumented immigrants to perform gardening, maintenance, and groundskeeping work, but in the wake of public attention have begun terminating those employees — some of whom have worked for the resorts for years.
In late 2014, the Labor Department audited Mar-a-Lago’s use of the guest worker program for the previous season, the records obtained by BuzzFeed News show. Auditors found that the Trump property had requested more H-2 visas than it ended up using and also failed to report instances in which guest workers left their jobs ahead of schedule, a situation that can result in workers staying in the US rather than returning home as intended.
The regulator found that Mar-a-Lago “failed to show it complied with the Department’s regulations,” but the audit was closed with no penalties and no plans for further action.
The Labor Department has no records of H-2 audits of the Trump golf clubs in Jupiter or Bedminster, an agency spokesperson said. Although the audits found four instances of potential noncompliance by Mar-a-Lago, the DOL "found neither a substantial pattern or practice that warranted action," the spokesperson added.
A spokesperson for CareerSource of Palm Beach County, which helps place local job seekers, said that, according to its records, it has only ever placed one applicant at a Trump property, in the fall of 2015 — which corresponds with the timing of the single hire in the Labor Department documents.
The spokesperson said that Trump properties, unlike some other hospitality employers in the county, have never contacted CareerSource for help in hiring American workers.
Ken Bensinger is an investigative reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles. He is the author of "Red Card," on the FIFA scandal. His secure PGP fingerprint is 97CC 6E32 10A2 23FE 4E84 98B4 9CFF 4214 9D26 8AA7
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