President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club needs to hire 35 waiters for this winter’s social season in Palm Beach, Fla.
The ad gave no email address or phone number. “Apply by fax,” it said. The ad also provided a mailing address. It ran twice, then never again.
This was an underwhelming way to attract local job-seekers. But that wasn’t the point. The ads were actually part of Mar-a-Lago’s efforts to hire foreign workers for those 35 jobs.
About a week before the ads ran, the president's club asked the Labor Department for permission to hire 70 temporary workers from overseas, government records show. Beside the 35 waiters, it asked for 20 cooks and 15 housekeepers, slightly more than it hired last year.
To get visas for those workers, Mar-a-Lago, like other businesses that rely on temporary employees each year, must first take legally mandated steps to look for U.S. workers. That includes placing two ads in a newspaper.
Typically, this attempt to recruit U.S. workers is a ritualized failure. Its outcome is usually a conclusion that there are no qualified Americans to hire, justifying the need for the government to issue the visas.
In the past few days, that ritual began again at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s members-only club that opens every winter and has become a frequent destination for the president.
The club’s request for visas stood out because it came in the middle of “Made in America Week” at the White House, as Trump and his administration sought to highlight his push to remake U.S. trade policy. Even as Trump urged other U.S. businesses to “hire American,” his business was gathering evidence to prove that it couldn’t.
Officials at Mar-a-Lago and at the Trump Organization did not respond to questions for this article. Neither did a White House spokeswoman.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump defended his practice of using foreign workers at his club — even as he blamed immigrants for taking American jobs and keeping wages low for native-born workers.
"It's very, very hard to get people. But other hotels do the exact same thing. . . . This is a procedure. It's part of the law," he said during a Republican candidates debate in March 2016, after Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) criticized him for using foreigners at Mar-a-Lago. "I take advantage of that. There's nothing wrong with it. We have no choice."
The category of visas requested by Mar-a-Lago is called H-2B, and the visas are intended for workers doing temporary jobs in nonagricultural fields. The number is theoretically limited to 66,000 per year, although that cap is frequently lifted: This year, for instance, the Trump administration added 15,000 visas after employers complained that they couldn't get the workers they need.
The visas are common across the hospitality industry, including at other resorts in Palm Beach, where an influx of visitors for only a few months each year means businesses must find workers willing to take temporary — and, often, labor-intensive — jobs.
Youcheng Wang, a professor at the University of Central Florida's Rosen College of Hospitality Management, said Florida's tourism industry is utterly dependent on these workers.
“This is not an easy industry to work in,” Wang said. “The jobs are typically long hours, with relatively low pay. It’s seasonal and temporary, so there’s instability in that workforce. If you want to enjoy a balance between work and life, this is not that kind of industry.”
Mar-a-Lago has relied on foreign workers since at least 2008, according to government documents. To recruit them, it relies on Petrina Group International, a firm with offices in Ithaca, N.Y., and Romania. News reports have said that Mar-a-Lago's workers have largely been from Romania and Haiti. Representatives for Petrina did not respond to requests for comment.
In the past, Trump’s club has followed the same pattern of searching for — and not hiring — American workers. Two years ago, for instance, Jeannie Coleman, who lives in nearby West Palm Beach, applied for a job as a housekeeper.
Mar-a-Lago called back. She had an interview. Then: nothing.
“I was very disappointed. At that time, I really needed a job,” said Coleman, now 50, who works at a clothing store. “I had the qualifications. The interview went great. But they never even did the common courtesy to call me and tell me why I wasn’t hired.”
The Labor Department says that employers seeking foreign workers must "hire any [American] applicants who are qualified and available." That year, Mar-a-Lago told the government it needed to hire 20 foreign workers as housekeepers. The government gave permission.
Now, Trump has resigned from leadership positions at Mar-a-Lago and other Trump Organization businesses. But he still owns them. And he has treated Mar-a-Lago as a second home. Last season, he spent seven weekends there, calling his club the “Winter White House.”
In determining Mar-a-Lago’s visa applications, Labor Department spokesman Egan Reich said the president’s business would be treated like any other. “The Department of Labor does not give preference or special treatment to any business or individual,” he said.
To immigration critics who have welcomed Trump’s calls for tightened border restrictions, Mar-a-Lago presents a missed opportunity for the president to lead by example.
"Let wages go up. Offer better benefits. More vacation time. Better working conditions," said Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for lower immigration levels. "We don't have a shortage of this kind of workers. You just got to look harder. And I would encourage the president — or whoever makes the hiring decisions down there [at Mar-a-Lago] — to do that."
So far, there is no sign that anything has changed.
Mar-a-Lago has done what is legally required to seek U.S. job applicants — including posting two newspaper ads, on nonconsecutive days, for each of the openings. It also posted the position with a local job-placement agency.
At least two people applied, according to records kept by the state workforce agency.
One was Osther Loseille, looking for a job as a cook. He had 10 years of experience.
He didn’t realize that Mar-a-Lago was the president’s club.
On the phone, he said, the Mar-a-Lago people didn’t mention it.
“I’ve been cooking at a country club most of my life, so I was interested,” Loseille said. But, after learning more about the job, he turned Mar-a-Lago down. “I’m looking for full-time work, not seasonal,” he said.
By law, Mar-a-Lago needed to search for American workers for 14 days before it could move to the next step in the process of seeking visas for foreign workers. That step is to send documentation to a Labor Department office, attesting to its inability to hire Americans.
Those 14 days ran out last week.
This week, there is a jobs fair in Palm Beach, where big resorts can meet prospective employees in person. Will a Mar-a-Lago representative be there?
At The Washington Post’s request, a job-placement center employee checked the list of attendees.
Mar-a-Lago isn’t going.
Lori Rozsa reported from West Palm Beach.