Scott Wexler is the Executive Director of the Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association
Washington, DC — In an op-ed, New York business leader and Executive Director of the Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association Scott Wexler highlighted the role immigrants can play in strengthening the economy and filling thousands of open jobs.
Noting that “New York’s hospitality industry faces a crisis right now,” Wexler called attention to the “impact of the COVID-19 pandemic” and “labor shortages hindering restaurateurs’ efforts to fully bounce back.”
Wexler recognizes that not only do immigrants find “a pathway to economic stability” through the hospitality industry, the industry “has become dependent on them as a critical workforce.” That’s why, as Wexler says, “restaurant and tavern owners will be the first to tell you that we need to open our welcoming arms even wider” to expand access to Temporary Protected Status and work permits for immigrants.
Noting that immigrants have a “spending power totaling $132.9 billion,” and “contribute $60 billion annually in taxes,” Wexler underscores that “when immigrants flourish, that’s who flourishes alongside them: New York’s communities.”
See our fact sheet on immigrants in New York here.
New York is the nation’s melting pot, and nowhere is that more evident than the restaurants and taverns on Main Streets across the state. Not only does New York have a proud history of proprietors from around the world becoming local fixtures by opening go-to watering holes and mom-and-pop restaurants, pull up a stool and you’ll hear the immigration success stories of diverse people from the back of the house to the bar to the dining room.
But talk to any restaurant or tavern owner across the state, and they’ll almost certainly tell you the same thing — New York’s hospitality industry faces a crisis right now. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten cultural institutions that make us a worldwide destination for small business, with labor shortages hindering restaurateurs’ efforts to fully bounce back.
The Dutchess County-Putnam County metro area saw a nearly 26% drop in leisure and hospitality sector jobs from 2019 to 2020, according to federal labor statistics. The climb back has been sluggish, forcing business owners to make tough decisions — many restaurants have had to cut back hours of operation, cutting deeper into their earnings, or some have had to simply close their doors altogether amid staffing challenges and turbulent economic conditions.
New Americans have always found a pathway to economic stability through this industry and the industry has become dependent on them as a critical workforce. The disruption of this pattern is part of the reason why the industry is struggling for staff, leading to fewer nights open and closure in some cases.
But as the state and nation are making strides to getting migrants seeking new opportunity to work, there is a path back to full strength.
In September, 427,000 Venezuelans — 60,000 of whom have come to New York — were granted temporary protected status — or TPS — by the Biden Administration, paving a path to work authorizations. Gov. Kathy Hochul then announced in October the state has identified more than 18,000 job openings with nearly 400 employers willing to hire migrants after receiving legal work status. Out of these 400 employers, 24% belong to the accommodation and food services industry. Thousands of applications for work authorization and temporary protected status have since been filed.
More than just plugging staffing holes, getting into the workforce has long been a first step toward entrepreneurship. Many immigrants have made the leap from bussing tables to owning businesses, spurring new, diverse dining options that add to New York’s melting pot. Mainstays like Frank Guido’s Little Italy in Kingston, Gino’s Restaurant in Wappingers Falls, The Meadow Brook in New Windsor, and the South Gate Tavern in Highland Falls have become hometown favorites thanks to the blood, sweat and tears of immigrants who sought to create something bigger for themselves and their communities.
And when immigrants flourish, that’s who flourishes alongside them: New York’s communities. With spending power totaling $132.9 billion, immigrants contribute $60 billion annually in taxes as they reinvest wages in communities on housing, clothing, transportation and, of course, food.
Restaurant and tavern owners will be the first to tell you that we need to open our welcoming arms even wider. It’s critical that the federal government grant TPS for those coming to New York from additional Latin American, African and other countries seeking their version of the American Dream. They deserve the same opportunity to make economic and cultural contributions that those before them have had.
That’s how we keep the melting pot cooking and ensure that all of us can enjoy the corner booth, the banquet table or a seat at the bar at restaurants and taverns up and down Main Street.
Scott Wexler is executive director of the Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association.
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