The great battle over immigration policy is now in full swing. Should we scrutinize visitors from certain countries more than others? Should we deport families who are here illegally? Should we build a wall along the Mexican border? No matter where you stand on these issues, there's certain impact these decisions will have on the restaurant industry.
Going back to the initial stages of the economic recovery, restaurants (even some of the most prestigious ones) have had a hard time finding staff. Simply put, there just aren't enough cooks in the restaurant kitchens. And in the future, it could become an even bigger problem.
In a recent article from The Boston Globe, consequences of the immigration crackdown were analyzed. With rumors of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids into restaurant kitchens, operators are looking for new ways to protect their businesses while celebrity chefs like Mario Batali and Jose Andres are speaking out against hard-line immigration policies.
As detailed in the article, the president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association doesn't necessarily see it as pitting one political party's policies against another.
"What restaurants have been looking for is no different than what we were looking for from President Obama and previous presidents: a solid immigration policy," Bob Luz said, one that "gives direction and a clear avenue for hard-working folks who want to come to the US and start a new and different life. We already have an employee shortage."
Nationwide, restaurants employ nearly 2.3 million foreign-born workers. According to the National Restaurant Association (NRA), this accounts for more than 23 percent of the entire restaurant labor force, which out indexes any other industry.
Where does the National Restaurant Association stand on immigration policy?
According to the NRA, today's immigration system is broken, and it makes economic sense to fix it.
Restaurants embody the American Dream like no other industry, but if Congress and the President don't repair the broken system, restaurants and other businesses will have a difficult time finding the employees they need to operate and grow.
Over the next 10 years, restaurants will likely create more than 1.8 million new jobs, which is more than our U.S.-born workforce can fill. As a result, the NRA supports sensible and meaningful steps to reform our system including the following:
A clear path to legalization: More than 11 million undocumented individuals are living and working in the United States. Many are paying taxes and contributing to the economy and their communities. These law-abiding individuals are hurt by the enforcement-only approach to immigration. Numerous polls have shown that the public strongly supports a clear path to legalization for these workers. Restaurants support this too.
A simple, reliable federal verification system: Many states have made the federal E-Verify system mandatory for at least some businesses. This forces restaurants to comply with different laws across jurisdictions. The NRA supports a consistent national standard that helps employers hire in a timely, efficient and respectful manner. Employers shouldn’t face penalties if they use the system in good faith.
Improved border security that promotes travel and tourism: The U.S. needs stronger security at its borders. But any steps to increase security should also facilitate legitimate travel and tourism to the United States. Tourism drives about a fifth of all restaurant sales and boosts economic activity across all sectors.
The Next Steps for Hiring in the Restaurant Industry
While nobody really knows what to expect over the next several years in terms of labor and immigration, two things are clear. First, as made evident in the recent Day Without Immigrants protests, foodservice and the restaurant industry will be impacted more than any other industry.
Second, with an existing shortage of labor in the restaurant industry and the possibilities of an even smaller labor pool, the abilities to identify and hire the right people will be even more important for success. A+ players in a commercial kitchen are even more important and might be more difficult to find.