As Washington Fights about Budgets, Immigration Presents Opportunity for Common Ground

As Congress and the White House look for ways to pass a new budget and avoid yet another government shutdown, leaders in both parties are searching for common ground. They should start with providing permanent protection for Dreamers and finish by modernizing our antiquated immigration rules.

Late last year, I was proud to join more than 800 CEOs from the tech, manufacturing, financial services, and other industries across the country in calling on President Trump to leave DACA in place. The President unfortunately announced he would end the program, which allows individuals, who are undocumented, came here as children, and do not have a criminal record, to legally work and study in the United States.

The moral case for protecting these children and young adults, known as “Dreamers,” is not up for debate – we shouldn’t punish people who find themselves living in the United States undocumented at no fault of their own. And the economic case for immigration reform, including legislation to allow Dreamers to stay in the U.S., is also clear.

A new analysis out last month from the Center for American Progress (CAP) finds that passing the Dream Act would add nearly $23 billion per year to the U.S. GDP. These gains would grow over time as Dreamers gain more education or skills, a requirement of the program, and others age into the program.

After decades in the hotel industry, I have experienced firsthand how our antiquated immigration system stifles business. According to CAP’s analysis, passing immigration reform that provides legal status to Dreamers would bring certainty to nearly 3 percent of the workforce in the hospitality industry. This would help relieve workforce shortages, improve customer experience, and bring certainty to both employees and hotels.

Immigration reform also needs to improve our system for admitting the more than 77.5 million foreign travelers who come to experience our great country and spend $245 billion on hotels, dining, and attractions. Tourism represents about 11% of America’s exports.

I operate hotels across the country and around the world. Here in the United States, we regularly hear about potential customers who are hoping to stay with us, but have had difficulties obtaining a visa.

While it may seem fairly simple to travel internationally as an American, the U.S. makes it challenging for foreigners from many countries to travel here. In some cases, a visitor must apply for the visa months in advance. Then, she must make an appointment at a U.S. embassy or consulate for an interview, which might take weeks to schedule. At that interview she must bring a variety of documents, but not just a passport; the interviewer is looking for proof of “compelling ties” in the home country, such as letters from family, employers, or even proof of owning a car.

With this high barrier, it is no wonder foreigners looking to travel abroad may be more likely to choose one of the many countries with more efficient visa procedures. Improving our system would make a big difference. Progress made during the Obama Administration demonstrates that reducing visa waiting time directly increases the number of international visitors who travel to the United States.

Attracting more visitors would have ripple effects throughout our national economy; one in eight private sector jobs is supported by travel. According to the U.S. Travel Association, international travelers support 1.1 million U.S. travel jobs. From housekeepers to waiters, from front desk clerks to landscapers, workers in the travel industry depend on international visitors.

Humanizing how we treat Dreamers and modernizing the Visa Waiver Program as part of comprehensive immigration would boost our economy and create more jobs. Efforts to do this have received bipartisan support in the past and should again now. Immigration reform is an instant jobs bill and an example of the kind of common-sense fixes policymakers should make the focus of their work.

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