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Almost 15 million Americans work in tourism and hospitality—in hotels, amusement parks, art museums, and restaurants—making it the fifth largest industry in the country.1 Many of these jobs depend on our immigration and visa systems. International visitors create high demand for the industry. Meanwhile, many employers face difficulties in finding enough American workers to staff resorts and attractions, particularly ones in rural communities. Current immigration and visa policies not only discourage international tourists and business travelers, but also hinder businesses from finding the workers on which their industry relies.
1 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), “Industry employment and output projection to 2024,” Monthly Labor Review, December 2015. Available online.
It is hard to imagine the country’s $700 billion tourism and hospitality industry2 without the contributions of immigrants. In 2015, foreign-born workers made up more than one out of every five workers in the sector—and even larger shares of those employed in more labor-intensive roles.3 In states where tourism and hospitality is especially vital, immigrants represent a significantly larger share of the workforce than the population overall.
2 U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, “Table 1: Value Added by Industry,” annual estimates for 2015, accessed October 25, 2016. Available online.
3 Author’s calculations from the 2015 American Community Survey.
Table sources: Author’s calculations from the 2015 American Community Survey.
|2,979,000: Total number of foreign-born tourism and hospitality workers, 2014.|
|21 percent: Share of hospitality workforce, foreign-born, 2014.|
|223,000: Number of foreign-born maids and housekeepers in hospitality industry, 2015.|
|109,267: Number of foreign-born dishwashers in industry, 2015.|
|State||Share of Tourism/Hospitality Workers, Foreign-Born||Share of Population, Foreign-Born|
|Role||Share of Workforce, Foreign-Born|
|Cleaners of Vehicles and Equipment||70.2%|
|Maids and Housekeeping Cleaners||50.0%|
|Laundry and Dry Cleaning Workers||47.3%|
|Personal Appearance Workers, Including Manicurists||35.6%|
|Baggage Porters, Bellhops, and Concierge||35.4%|
More Workers Needed
As the tourism and hospitality industry expands, it will need additional workers to maintain, service, and manage venues across the country. However, between 2010 and 2020, almost 80 percent of all the projected new positions in the industry will require less than a bachelor’s degree.4 This growth is at odds with nationwide demographic trends, as the number of U.S.-born individuals at that skill level is declining.
4 Author’s calculations of a straight-line projection using data from the Current Population Survey, 2002-2015. 5 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), “Industry employment and output projection to 2024,” Monthly Labor Review, December 2015. Available online.
Table source: Burning Glass Technologies
|941,200: Number of new tourism and hospitality jobs that will be added, 2014-2024.|
|658,000: Number of those new jobs that will be in the broader food service industry, a predominantly less-skilled field.|
|84 percent: Share of all tourism and hospitality jobs requiring less than a BA, 2014.|
|-5.3 percent: Projected decline in U.S.-born workers with less than a BA, 2010-2020.|
|State||Number of Tourism and Hospitality Job Postings, 2015|
The Impact of International Visitors
While domestic travelers still account for the largest share of U.S. tourism expenditures, international tourists are critical to the strength of the industry overall. On average, international tourists spend $4,500 on goods and services each time they visit the United States—making tourism our country’s largest export in recent years.6 That spending has a ripple effect on the broader economy. The U.S. Travel Association estimates that every $1 million spent by foreign visitors creates 6.6 tourism jobs.7 Each tourism job, in turn, indirectly supports 1.5 jobs in related industries such as construction, marketing, accounting, and manufacturing.8
6 "Statement from U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker on President Obama’s Executive Actions to Welcome More International Visitors," Commerce.gov, May 22, 2014. Available online.
7 U.S. Travel Association, “Travel Exports: Driving Economic Growth and Creating American Jobs,” September 10, 2014. Available online.
8 World Tourism Organization and International Labour Organization, “Measuring Employment in the Tourism Industries – Guide with Best Practices,” UNWTO, Madrid, 2014. Available online.
Table source: Burning Glass Technologies
|$220.8 billion: Total travel and tourism receipts from international visitors, 2014.|
|1.5 million: Estimated number of tourism jobs created by that spending.|
|2.2 million: Estimated number of jobs created in sectors outside tourism and hospitality.|
The Current System Hampers International Travel
Since September 11, necessary security measures and visa restrictions have made travel more difficult for many international tourists. One way to increase the number of international travelers to the United States, while still safeguarding security, would be to expand the number of countries eligible for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Participating countries must meet stringent security standards for vetting potential U.S. visitors and share information about possible terrorist and criminal threats, general and specific, with the U.S. government. Research finds that when a country joins VWP, the number of visitors from that country to the United States increases substantially.
9 New American Economy, "Passport to Future Economic Growth," December 15, 2014. Available online.
|16.4 percent: Expected increase in tourists coming to the Unites States over 5 years once a country joins the Visa Waiver Program.9|
|1.7 million: Number of additional international tourists expected to visit the United States within five years if Hong Kong, Brazil, South Africa, Poland, Turkey, and Israel, all likely candidates, are admitted to the Visa Waiver Program.10|
|$7.7 billion: Additional tourist spending within a 5-year period that would result from those countries joining the program.|
|50,000: U.S. tourism jobs created by these additional international tourists.|
Reforming the H-2B Visa
Tourism and hospitality companies across the United States depend on immigrant workers to help fill seasonal and labor-intensive jobs that would otherwise remain vacant. In 1986, under President Ronald Reagan, the H-2B visa program was created to allow immigrants to enter the country legally as temporary workers. Unfortunately, as currently administered, the H-2B program is too cumbersome and costly—and riddled with delays—to be useful to many U.S. businesses. Many employers say the supply of available visas is also far too limited to meet actual labor needs.
11 Estimate based on figures provided by the H-2B Workforce Coalition and the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Foreign Labor Certification’s 2015 Annual Report.
12 “Immigration Myths and Facts,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce, April 14, 2016. Available online.
|66,000: Cap on the number of H-2B visas available per year.|
|129,000: Number of visas issued in 2007 when the cap was not in place.|
|$1,140: Average amount employers spend on applications, transportation, and other fees for each H-2B worker hired.11|
|33 percent: Share of businesses that would close or reduce their operations if they could not hire workers through temporary visa programs.12|
Impact on the States
Getting immigration reform right for the tourism and hospitality industry will be critical for many states, particularly those where the sector accounts for a substantial share of the state’s GDP. For example: in 2014, more than one out of every six dollars of GDP in Nevada was tied to the tourism and hospitality industry, as were almost one in 10 dollars of GDP in Hawaii. In Nevada, immigrants frequently hold the kinds of low-level and labor-intensive jobs that not only allow hotels and casinos to thrive, but also help create jobs for American workers at a variety of skill levels.
Table sources: Data on GDP come from the BEA’s estimates for annual GDP by state by major industry sector. Information about jobs comes from the 2014 American Community Survey.
|State||Share of State's GDP from Tourism and Hospitality||Total GDP Contribution of Tourism and Hospitality||Total Jobs Provided by Tourism and Hospitality|
|Occupation||Share of Immigrant Workers|
|Maids and Housekeeping Cleaners||72.0%|
|Miscellaneous Agricultural Workers, Including Animal Breeders||58.4%|
|Cleaners of Vehicles and Equipment||57.9%|
|Food Preparation Workers||55.6%|
|Miscellaneous Food Preparation and Serving Related Workers, Including Dining Room Attendants||54.0%|
|Grounds Maintenance Workers||50.4%|
|Baggage Porters, Bellhops, and Concierges||47.4%|
|Taxi Drivers and Chauffeurs||45.6%|
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