© Copyright 2004 by the Wyoming Department of Employment, Research & Planning


Vol. 41 No. 6    


Wyoming Foreign Labor: Where Do They Work and What Jobs Do They Hold?

by: Sara Saulcy, Economist

Foreign workers in Wyoming represent a small yet increasing segment of the state's labor supply. Foreign workers are concentrated in two major occupational groups, Food Preparation & Serving Related and Building & Grounds Cleaning & Maintenance. Additionally, our research indicates that a majority of Wyoming's foreign labor is employed in the Southwest Region, particularly Teton County. Foreign Labor Certification wage requests made by or on behalf of Wyoming employers declined from 2001 to 2002, possibly as a result of economic uncertainty and a reluctance to hire foreign workers in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks.

Foreign-born residents of the United States represent a significant percentage of the population. For 2001, the U.S. Census Bureau reports 11.1 percent (32 million) of the country’s population was foreign born. When compared to the United States as a whole, the share of foreign-born workers is relatively small in Wyoming (11,372 or 2.3% of total residents; U.S. Census Bureau, 2001a). During the 1990s, Wyoming’s foreign-born population increased 47 percent (Federation of American Immigration Reform, n.d.). Where in Wyoming do foreign laborers typically find work? What jobs do they hold? How has foreign labor changed in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks? We address these questions by using Research & Planning’s (R&P) Foreign Labor Certification (FLC) database.


The U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration (DOL-ETA) administers the FLC program (formerly known as Alien Labor Certification). The program assists employers with hiring foreign workers when there are not enough U.S. workers able, willing, qualified, or available to perform a particular job (U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, n.d.a). The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) governs the FLC program (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 2004). The INA limits foreign workers by number of workers and by type of occupation. For example, the annual limit of temporary unskilled foreign workers allowed into the U.S. is 66,000 (Gentes, 2004). Both the employer and the foreign worker must meet a number of criteria before the foreign laborer may begin working.

As part of the FLC process, a prevailing wage determination is usually required for the specific occupation and geographic location. A prevailing wage insures that the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers will not be negatively affected by the presence of foreign workers (U.S. Department of Labor, n.d.b). 

The employer may make the prevailing wage request directly or, alternatively, hire an agent to make the request. Agents obtain the prevailing wage determination on behalf of the employer and process other related FLC paperwork. Prevailing wage requests in Wyoming usually cover a single foreign worker, although occasionally a single wage request may accommodate multiple foreign workers in a particular occupation and location (e.g., Construction Laborers in Sublette County). Since agents likely represent firms hiring for similar occupations, they most often make wage requests covering multiple foreign workers. In some circumstances, the prevailing wage exceeds what the employer is willing or able to pay, and the foreign worker is not hired. If an employer does not use the FLC wage determination within 90 days of a response from R&P, the employer or employer’s agent is required to obtain another determination from R&P. New wage data may have become available since the initial determination.

In Wyoming the Jackson Employment Center, part of the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, manages the FLC program under a grant from DOL-ETA. With the exception of making prevailing wage determinations and most agricultural foreign labor issues, the Jackson Employment Center manages all aspects of the Wyoming FLC program. Agricultural Foreign Labor Certification is administered by the Rawlins Employment Center, while R&P handles prevailing wage determinations.

Upon receipt of a prevailing wage request from an employer or an employer’s agent, the Jackson Employment Center forwards the request to R&P. Research & Planning reviews the wage request for completeness, assigns a Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) title and code, and determines the prevailing wage. The wage assigned is either entry- or experienced-level (referred to in DOL-ETA regulations as a Level I or Level II wage, respectively) following various criteria. Wages are based on data collected from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program (Hauf and Davis, 2002). Following the prevailing wage determination, the employer or their agent and the Jackson Employment Center staff are notified. R&P created a FLC database in 2001 to store prevailing wage request information including the request itself, wage determinations, and other relevant details. Such record-keeping expedites study of prior requests and wage determinations, and allows research such as that presented in this article.

Work Location, Occupation, and Change from 2001 to 2003

Table 1 shows the number of prevailing wage requests processed from 2001 to 2003 by region (see map for counties included in each region). The Southwest Region accounted for nearly one-half of all prevailing wage requests in Wyoming for each year. Teton County constituted the majority of all requests in the state in the three years (82.7% in 2001, 76.9% in 2002, and 89.9% in 2003). Employers in the Central Region made the fewest wage requests in 2001 and 2002 (29 and 15, respectively). In 2003, employers in the Northwest Region had the fewest requests (9). From 2001 to 2002, the number of incoming prevailing wage requests dropped by 38, from 241 to 203 (a 15.8% decline), while 2002 to 2003 requests fell by one.

The number of prevailing wage requests by major occupation from 2001 to 2003 are shown in Table 2. In 2001 the majority of requests were for Food Preparation & Serving Related occupations. Among the individual occupations included in this group are Cooks, Restaurant; Waiters & Waitresses; and Dishwashers (U.S. Office of Management and Budget, 2000). Building & Grounds Cleaning & Maintenance occupations accounted for the majority of wage requests in 2002 and 2003. Included in this occupation group are Maids & Housekeeping Cleaners, with approximately 24 wage requests per year. From 2001 to 2003, Food Preparation & Serving Related and Building & Grounds Cleaning & Maintenance occupations constituted 36.2 percent of all wage requests.


Foreign-born persons represented 2.3 percent of Wyoming’s population in 2001. There are differences among counties, however. Teton County had the highest percentage of foreign-born individuals (5.9% of the total population) while Niobrara County had the lowest at 0.7 percent (U.S. Census Bureau, 2001b; U.S. Census Bureau, 2001c). Teton County’s share of foreign-born individuals is mirrored by the fact that the county had, by far, the most foreign labor prevailing wage requests from 2001 to 2003. 

Prevailing wage requests during the 3-year period were submitted for all except 2 of the 22 major occupations listed in Table 2. Although prevailing wage requests were made for a wide range of occupations, the requests were concentrated in the two major occupations: Food Preparation & Serving Related and Building & Grounds Cleaning & Maintenance. Unique occupations within these groups are relatively low-paying (Hauf and Davis, 2002). 

The argument that foreign workers are employed in jobs domestic workers do not want may have credence, given that most foreign workers are employed in low-paying jobs. An alternative argument is made by Mark Krikorian, Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies (2004):

If the supply of foreign workers were to dry up…employers would respond to this new, tighter labor market in two ways. One, they would offer higher wages, increased benefits, and improved working conditions, so as to recruit and retain people from the remaining pool of workers. At the same time, the same employers would look for ways to eliminate some of the jobs they are now having trouble filling. The result would be a new equilibrium, with blue-collar workers making somewhat better money, but each one of those workers being more productive.

The decline in the number of prevailing wage requests from 2001 to 2002 may be attributed to the September 11th terrorist attacks and the resulting shrinking economy. The decline may also reflect a reluctance by firms to hire foreign workers in the aftermath of the attacks. Incoming wage requests are also affected by caps on the number and types of foreign workers that are allowed into the U.S. Lastly, prospective foreign workers may be reluctant to apply for U.S. jobs due to tighter immigration restrictions (Budniewski, 2003).

While the share of the foreign-born in Wyoming is fairly small at 2.3 percent of the population, it is estimated that approximately 29,000 residents (6.0% of the total population) are either immigrants or the children of immigrants (Federation for American Immigration Reform, n.d.). Of the immigrant population, 38.0 percent arrived since 1990. Over the previous decade, nine percent of Wyoming’s overall population increase was attributable to foreign immigration. Consequently, demand for foreign workers contributes significantly to Wyoming’s population growth.


Although Wyoming’s immigrant population is small relative to the U.S., foreign-born residents of the state represent an increasing segment of the state’s population. The Southwest Region, Teton County in particular, attracted the most foreign labor from 2001 to 2003. Most often the jobs foreign workers hold are in the Food Preparation & Serving Related and Building & Grounds Cleaning & Maintenance occupations. It remains to be seen whether a national economic rebound will yield an increase in Foreign Labor Certification wage requests. 


Budniewski, D. (2003). International applications down 43 percent. UB Reporter. Retrieved June 9, 2004, from http://www.buffalo.edu/reporter/vol35/vol35n28/articles/fsec.html 

Federation for American Immigration Reform. (n.d.). Immigration impact - Wyoming. Retrieved March 11, 2004 from http://www.fairus.org/Research/Research.cfm?ID=1500&c=9 

Gentes, L. (2004, April 14). Visa cap worries seasonal businesses. Casper Star-Tribune, p. A7.

Hauf, D., & Davis, V. (2002, December). 2001 Wyoming wage survey. Wyoming Department of Employment, Research & Planning. Retrieved May 17, 2004, from http://doe.state.wy.us/lmi/01oespub/toc.htm  

Krikorian, M. (2004, January 7). Jobs Americans won’t do. National Review Online. Retrieved February 18, 2004, from http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/krikorian200401070923.asp 

U.S. Census Bureau. (2001a). State and County QuickFacts: Wyoming. Retrieved March 11, 2004, from http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/56000.html 

U.S. Census Bureau. (2001b). State and County QuickFacts: Niobrara County, Wyoming. Retrieved March 25, 2004, from http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/56027.html 

U.S. Census Bureau. (2001c). State and County QuickFacts: Teton County, Wyoming. Retrieved March 25, 2004, from http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/56039.html 

U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. (2004, January). Immigration and nationality act. Retrieved March 1, 2004, from http://uscis.gov/graphics/lawsregs/INA.htm 

U.S. Department of Labor, Employment & Training Administration. (n.d.a). Foreign Labor Certification prevailing wages. Retrieved February 24, 2004, from http://ows.doleta.gov/foreign/wages.asp 

U.S. Department of Labor, Employment & Training Administration. (n.d.b). Foreign Labor Certification mission statement. Retrieved March 1, 2004, from http://ows.doleta.gov/foreign/mission.asp 

U.S. Office of Management and Budget. (2000, October). Standard occupational classification manual. Retrieved May 17, 2004, from http://stats.bls.gov/soc/ 

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