Signal hires foreign workers; Pascagoula to employ 290

Published 11:42 pm Saturday, September 16, 2006

Signal International will bring in 290 workers from India for its Pascagoula construction facility.

Another 300 foreign workers will be sent to Signal’s operation in Orange, Texas, company officials said Friday.

John Sanders, corporate program manager of the marine manufacturing firm that builds and repairs offshore oil rigs, said the workers should arrive in Pascagoula in four to six weeks, when construction should be complete on a modular housing community.

Sanders said Signal tried to hire workers in South Mississippi, advertising in newspapers, on a Web site and on road signs.

“The driving reason we are going overseas and bringing back temporary foreign workers is because we have not been able to find sufficient local workers,” Sanders said.

Sanders said finding enough local workers was difficult because many were displaced by Hurricane Katrina, and, in many cases, family concerns or lack of housing are keeping them away.

Recruiters located the workers in India with the assistance of an employee brokerage agent in that country.

Sanders said the blue-collar workers from India, whose wages are much lower in their own country than those in the United States, are willing to temporarily leave their families for jobs that require communal living.

“Our wages are attractive, but yet the infrastructure, housing wise, is lacking,” Sanders said. “This need is expected to continue for skilled laborers until housing is built in the area and people are able to remain.”

The Indian employees will work in welding and shipfitting, on new construction projects, and on the repair of rigs and equipment damaged by hurricanes in 2005. They have the same status as other employees in pay, advancement opportunities, benefits and seniority, Sanders said.

When the 10-month term of their work visas ends, the workers will be eligible to apply for an eight-month extension. They must return to India when it expires, Sanders said.

“We are going to have to reassess the needs of our business when the time of expiration draws near,” he said.