- The midwestern U.S. is experiencing a serious shortage of hospitality workers, largely thanks to the limited number of visas available to immigrants, says the assistant director of immigration at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
- This is not only hurting the region's hospitality industry, but it's also driving an increase in undocumented workers, warns Sara McElmurry. She says that both past inaction by Congress and also the current administration's support for proposals that would further limit legal immigration has threatened staffing levels.
- "The immigration system must be updated to provide visas that facilitate the hiring of immigrants, protect them from exploitation, and allow them to build their businesses," McElmurry wrote in a blog post. She suggests that this include: a visa system that is responsive to labor market needs; a process for unauthorized workers to adjust their status to legally work in their current jobs; a reliable and consistent employment verification system to hire new workers; and visa channels that allow a wider variety of immigrant entrepreneurs to build businesses.
The author's requests echo what employers have been saying for months: they just can't fill jobs. Experts disagree on the causes. Perhaps its a true skills gap; maybe the opioid crisis is at fault; or maybe the U.S. is approaching full employment.
And to address these myriad issues, employers are turning to apprenticeships, looking at automation, helping employees complete rehab, advocating for immigration reform and even considering moves to Canada.
The immigration piece of the puzzle, however, could be a long way off. Employers are not seeing the promised increase in enforcement efforts regarding Form I-9 compliance, for example. And with no consensus on how to handle reform, experts say it is low on the administration's list of priorities.