Members Voice a Need for Immigration Reform
(Left to Right: John Rutter, Aaron McCreight, Clarene Law, Congressman Cynthia Lummis, Senator Mike Enzi, Jerry Blann, Sandy Newsome, Kari Cooper)
Earlier this month board members of the Wyoming Lodging and Restaurant Association and the Wyoming Travel Industry Coalition met with U.S. Senator Mike Enzi and Congressman Cynthia Lummis to discuss comprehensive immigration reform. Members from both associations consistently list a quality workforce and increased visitation as two top priorities. Your association worked to bring the industry and the congressional delegation together to discuss these impactful issues.
Eighteen industry representatives were in attendance to convey the importance of several key components of sensible reform as it relates to the hospitality and tourism industry in Wyoming.
The roundtable meeting began with a discussion focused on the need for a legalized foreign workforce. WLRA members Clarene Law (Town Square Inns) and John Rutter (Grand Teton Lodge Company) both conveyed the critical need for foreign workers, particularly during the busiest months of the year. They explained how the H2b and J1 Visa programs allowed foreign workers to fill positions that they simply could not staff to adequate staffing levels, but that these Visa’s frequently did not allow employees to stay for the needed duration. This problem is commonplace statewide in both the lodging and restaurant industries when US citizens are not available in adequate numbers or choose not to work certain positions. Law and Rutter also conveyed the industry's willingness to participate in a national verification system provided it was accurate, easy to use and provided a safe haven for employers in the event of an unintended error.
Senator Enzi and Congressman Lummis both voiced a need for tighter border enforcement and employment verification before they would consider any additional legislation surrounding foreign workers. Congressman Lummis told the audience that she expected the House to consider bills focused on border security (the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement or SAFE Act) and a national verification system (The Legal Workforce Act) to be debated before the end of the year. Additionally Congressman Lummis stated that she understood the need for some foreign workers to fill vacancies in some industries. She favored legislation that targeted specific industries certain foreign workers would be eligible to supplement, noting that he hospitality industry was one of them.
Kari Cooper (Jackson Hole Air) and Jerry Blann (Jackson Hole Mountain Resort) conveyed the significant impact foreign travellers have on Wyoming’s tourism industry. Foreign travellers spend, on average, about $4500.00 each when vacationing in the United States. Blann and Cooper explained the need for a broader and more welcoming Visa application process noting that the Jobs Originated through Launching Travel (JOLT Act. HR 1354) is a bill aimed at facilitating a swifter approval process in key countries, and encourages additional travel to the U.S. John Rutter (GTLC) then asked Congressman Lummis to consider being a co-sponsor of the bill upon her return from August recess.
Senator Enzi again referenced the need for tighter border security noting that forty percent of the illegal immigrants currently in the U.S. are here because of an over stay on a Visa allowing them to visit temporarily. He voiced a concern that there was a disconnect between the tracking system documenting those entering the country and the system tracking the same visitors leaving the country. Congressman Lummis agreed to consider co-sponsoring the JOLT Act and stated that she thought the bill had a good chance of passing the House.
Aaron McCreight (Casper Area Convention and Visitors Bureau) and Sandy Newsome (Wyoming Office of Tourism Board of Directors) both conveyed the critical need for reauthorization of the Travel Promotion Act (needed by 2015.) Brand USA works to increase international travel to the United States by expanding our share of the global travel and tourism market. Prior to the Travel Promotion Act corporations or mega destinations (Disney, Hyatt, etc) represented America in international markets.
Both Senator Enzi and Congressman Lummis understood the importance of the Travel Promotion Act and after some discussion validating the effectiveness of the TPA and Brand USA Congressman Lummis discussed the possibility of the TPA becoming a Western Caucus Initiative (she is the Co-Chair and Senator Barrasso is the Chairman of the Senate Western Caucus.)
Immigration reform has a significant impact on the hospitality and tourism industry in Wyoming and across the country. Our goals entering the roundtable discussion were to convey the most impactful components of reform as they relate to our industry while gaining a better understanding of what reform would need to look like to earn the support of our congressional delegation. We achieved both initiatives and are extremely grateful for Senator Enzi and Congressman Lummis and their staff taking the time to meet and discuss this complex issue. Thanks also to the staff of Senator Barrasso (who was unable to attend). Finally, thank you so much to the industry representatives that were in attendance and who spoke on behalf of Wyoming’s second largest industry.