The president’s hiring of foreign workers at the Florida resort over several years was criticized by his opponents during the 2016 campaign after he slammed companies for moving jobs out of the U.S. and others for hiring immigrants in the country illegally. During the Republican primary debates, Trump defended Mar-a-Lago’s hiring practices, saying not enough Americans apply for its low-end service jobs and if his managers didn’t recruit outside the country “we might as well just close the doors.”
Trump Organization spokeswoman Amanda Miller did not return calls and emails this week seeking comment. Janine Gill, Mar-a-Lago’s personnel director, also did not return a call. Trump visited Mar-a-Lago seven times after his Jan. 20 inauguration and is expected back this season, perhaps as early as Thanksgiving.
Under requests approved by the U.S. Labor Department, Mar-a-Lago can employ 35 foreign waiters, 20 cooks and 15 housekeepers to help serve its 500 members starting this month through May 31. The waiters will receive $11.88 an hour with no tips, the cooks $13.34 an hour and the housekeepers $10.33 an hour. The waiters’ and cooks’ wages are slightly above the national average for those fields and the housekeepers’ slightly below, according to Labor Department statistics.
Mar-a-Lago has made similar requests in recent years, ranging from 88 employees in 2014 down to 64 last year.
And Mar-a-Lago is not alone. Many other high-end resorts and clubs in Palm Beach County annually receive similar approvals from the government, including 141 foreign employees this year for The Breakers, a historic beachfront hotel near Mar-a-Lago, and 65 for The Polo Club of Boca Raton. All are offering wages roughly similar to Mar-a-Lago, according to their Labor Department filings. The area’s peak tourist season is from about Thanksgiving to Easter.
The workers are hired under the H-2B visa program, which is for seasonal, non-agriculture employees and is capped at 66,000 nationally per year. The State Department says all visa applicants are screened against law enforcement and counter-terrorism databases, but would not say whether Mar-a-Lago applicants get extra scrutiny.
Palm Beach County’s unemployment rate is 3.6 per cent, below the national rate of 4.1 per cent. The county’s Great Recession rate peaked at 11.6 per cent in August 2010 and has been in a steady decline since.
Mar-a-Lago’s members pay $14,000 annual dues for access to the 17-acre (6.9-hectare) estate, with new members paying a $200,000 initiation fee that doubled earlier this year. Trump purchased Mar-a-Lago—“The Greatest Mansion Ever Built,” according to its website—from the foundation of cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post in 1985 for $10 million and has invested tens of millions of dollars improving the property. He opened it as a club in 1995.
The property now boasts 58 bedrooms, 33 bathrooms, a 20,000-square-foot (1,858-square-meter) ballroom, tennis and croquet courts and three bomb shelters. Members pay extra to dine and stay on the property.