In an era of seemingly endless political division in Washington, D.C., one Senate vote on June 27 stands out as a moment of rare agreement.
On that day, each of the 100 senators rose from their desks in the Capitol and cast their votes on the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744), the most significant package of reforms to our country’s immigration system in more than a quarter century. And in a display of bipartisanship not often seen, 14 Republicans joined with all 54 Democrats to take the first steps toward bringing immigration policies in line with today’s economy.
The American Hotel and Lodging Association has long pressed for reforming this system in such a way as to enhance our national security, provide employers with a fair and efficient system for verifying workers, create access to temporary workers when no Americans are available, and a establish a process for addressing those undocumented workers already living in this country. While not a complete solution, the Senate bill takes a very important step in that direction.
When our immigration system was last reformed in 1986, it contained an unforeseen but significant flaw: the lack of a temporary worker program to provide access to labor when Americans are unavailable. While our economy continued to grow, the jobs that were created outpaced the number of Americans available to fill them. As a result, the system established in 1986 created the conditions that resulted in drawing millions of undocumented workers across our borders to fill those jobs. We now face an immigration crisis that does not serve our security or economic interests.
The Senate legislation corrects that mistake by including a new temporary worker program (the “W” visa) with an efficient process for both employers and workers. The measure ensures that extensive recruitment of Americans will occur before any temporary worker is hired and that fair wages are paid.
The H-2B temporary worker program that is so crucial to the economic viability of many seasonal hotels and resorts is also addressed in the legislation. By providing a renewal of the H-2B returning worker exemption through 2018 and a statutory wage methodology for the program, enactment of this bill will ensure that seasonal hotels will not be subjected to instability and uncertainty in staffing their properties during peak seasons.
Finally, the authors of the bill have included a starting point for the path toward creating an electronic employment verification (“E-Verify”) system that is effective, efficient, and fair for both employers and employees.
The landmark bill also is a great victory on the travel and tourism front. The legislation incorporates an AH&LA priority: provisions of the Jobs Originated Through Travel (JOLT) Act. This will help increase international travel to the United States and boost economic growth and job creation, expand the Visa Waiver Program to include Hong Kong, and provide for a more efficient visa program by establishing a pilot program for the use of secure videoconferencing for visa processing and reducing processing wait times.
All told, implementation of the JOLT measures will lead to significant growth of American exports and the creation of a large number of new American jobs (35 created for every one international traveler to the United States) and generate increased tax revenue.
Despite the success of the Senate in moving this landmark bill through a final vote, the work is only just beginning in the House. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has clearly indicated that the House will not consider the Senate bill on the House floor. He has stated that the House will consider its own immigration reform legislation and that he will not bring any measure to the floor for a vote if he cannot guarantee the support of a majority of his Republican members. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) has already begun work on a series of smaller, more targeted bills addressing particular areas of concern to reform proponents—from increasing border security to more efficient use of E-Verify.
It cannot be stressed enough how important this legislation is to the lodging industry. Because of its impact on hotels of every size and location, Congress needs to hear from every hotelier—their views, their concerns, their suggestions, and, yes, even their criticisms. There are many ways for you to get involved, and AH&LA has the information, tools, and guidance you need to make a difference.
Congress sees the AH&LA as the lodging industry’s unified voice. Now it’s time to show Congress how loud that voice can be.
Shawn McBurney is senior vice president of governmental affairs for the AH&LA.