JACKSON - Adnan Baykal took a job in Jackson Hole hoping to have a party summer and to improve his English.
JACKSON — Adnan Baykal took a job in Jackson Hole hoping to have a party summer and to improve his English.
His language skills grew while he worked as a busser at Snake River Lodge. The party summer didn't quite work out.
"You can make good money here," Baykal said, "but if you want to have fun, it's 600 miles away."
After three months in Teton County, 20-year-old Baykal will return to Ankara, Turkey, to finish his political science degree from Middle East Technical University.
Baykal is part of a modern stream of immigrant workers from Eastern and Central Europe taking jobs around Jackson Hole -- at Kmart, Smith's, Albertsons and Hampton Inn.
Positions that at one time might have been filled by ski bums and high school kids are going to hard-working foreigners from Moldova, Bulgaria and Croatia.
Some are here for three months, some for the long haul. They live in clusters -- at Alpine Meadows Apartments behind Kmart or the Western Motel on Glenwood. Some love it in Teton County; others not so much.
Largely uninterested in the outdoor scene, Baykal said he prefers the big cities to Jackson.
"It's quite far away from everywhere," he said. "Even Idaho Falls is, what, 100 miles away? But it's not so great of a city."
He's not disappointed, though, since "my expectations weren't so big," Baykal said.
Recruiting foreign labor is not a new phenomenon in Wyoming. But the jobs international workers are taking -- and the places they come from -- have evolved.
In 2004, 339 foreigners received work visas for jobs in Wyoming.
Most of those workers settled in the state's larger cities. Nearly half ended up in the southwestern part of the state -- in Evanston or Rock Springs. One-third took jobs in Cheyenne.
Just 13 of them ended up in northwestern Wyoming. Nearly one-third of those workers -- 101 -- took the computer and mathematical science jobs traditionally associated with visas for "highly skilled" foreign employees. The next largest group -- 62 -- worked on building and grounds crews, in cleaning and maintenance. Another 47 worked in food service.
Wyoming accounts for just 2 percent of the foreign labor certifications the U.S. Department of Labor approves each year.
Still, department reports show foreign workers steadily applying for jobs in Wyoming. In 2010, 1,708 workers requested positions in Wyoming. Just 396 applications were processed, and of those 336 were certified. In 2011, just 245 worker visas were certified.
Of those approved to work in the state, about half received permanent worker visas or the H-1B "highly skilled" visa, for wages that ranged from $50,000 to more than $100,000.
The other half received lesser H-2B and H-2A temporary or seasonal worker visas and earn on average $8.76 an hour.
Jackson, Teton Village and Alta employers hired 17 workers with temporary visas during the past year. Another three received permanent worker visas.
Other international workers arrive in Jackson with J-1 work-study visas.
Albertsons has four employees this season working as part of an exchange program, said Dennis McCoy, a regional public affairs manager based in Boise, Idaho.
"It's a common practice in resort towns," McCoy said.
Some of the workers like the adventure and the money, others are left cold.
"Here in Jackson you can make a lot of money," said 20-year-old Victorio Angelo, Baykal's Bulgarian friend who has worked as a dishwasher at Snake River Lodge all summer. "I wanted to go to Los Angeles or San Francisco and be a lifeguard on the ocean, but things happened and I'm here. I make over $10 an hour."
Angelo said he visited Las Vegas and Mount Rushmore, making the latter trip in a rented Camaro. His father is a former professional rally car driver, and he enjoys driving fast. Teton Pass is a good place for that, he said.
"I love this road," he said of Highway 22. "You can have fun there. We were there at like 1 (a.m.) once, so there were not so many people around. We were going like 100 (mph). There is no patrol.
"You have to be careful for animals, but that's all."
But the town holds as little charm for Angelo as for his Turkish friend.
"I see so many tourists, and they are amazed at this town," Angelo said. "I can get used to Yellowstone Park, Teton National Park, but Jackson? Not so much."