Are US visa and immigration policies helping or hurting?

Ken Brown By Ken Brown
Uploaded 08 April 2019

Ken Brown of Furnished Quarters looks at the effects of US visa and immigration policies on the serviced apartment sector and the wider economy.
 
Since President Trump took office, visa processing time has increased by 46 per cent according to the American Immigration Lawyer Association. This isn't a surprise to anyone working in the serviced apartment industry. We've all become accustomed to arrival date delays, cancellations and last-minute extensions from guests going through the visa procurement process.

These visa delays frequently stem from the Trump administration's "Buy American and Hire American: Putting American Workers First" program. The goal of this initiative is to ensure the effect on the American worker is fully considered before granting a visa to a foreign national. The H1B visa, popular among STEM companies, has had its approval process particularly scrutinised.  For example, employers seeking this visa are now subject to random site inspections to confirm they have not committed fraud on their H1B application. Those who support the initiative reason that an additional foreign worker takes a job away from an American worker and depresses wages by widening the labour pool. This presents a narrow view. The serviced apartment industry benefits greatly from immigrants. They fill our apartments, serve as amazing team members and found companies. Our industry is a great example of why increased immigration is a net positive for American workers and American business.

H1B visas are a two-way street. American companies have to want to bring in top foreign workers, and foreign workers have to want to come to the United States. These workers have contributed immeasurably to the US economy. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, immigrants are more likely to be entrepreneurs than US-born citizens and create approximately 25 per cent of new businesses. The same research attributed immigrants with founding companies that have created three to four million jobs.  Immigrants have clearly been instrumental in job growth and are beneficial to the US economy.

Taking a look at our industry, relocation and immigration require a support system of serviced apartment, relocation, and destination service companies. The serviced apartment industry represents a three billion dollar sector filled with small to medium sized companies, many of whom are owned by immigrants or children of immigrants.

According to New American Economy, a bipartisan immigration research organisation, immigrants spend nearly one trillion dollars per year in the US.  They contribute another quarter billion in taxes. The serviced apartment industry helps welcome guests to the United States, but is only one of countless industries that directly benefit from immigrants' spending power. Just as we've become accustomed as serviced apartment operators to visa delays, we've also become accustomed to welcoming guests from every corner of the globe. We rely on the revenues created by immigration. Anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy, in the name of American business, have a direct negative impact on our bottom line. 
 
Immigration doesn't occur in a vacuum. Yes, American workers have to compete with foreign-born workers for open jobs, but labour demands are not finite. The US has created a business ecosystem which fosters innovation and job growth, and skilled non-US citizen workers, supported that growth. Our country's reputation as the best place to start a business is well earned, but since the 2016 introduction of the "Buy American" policy, this ecosystem has been under attack. Global talent has begun to look to other countries for opportunity- countries such as Canada, who are now providing incentives to new businesses, are seen as more desirable than the US. This can lead to a decrease in entrepreneurship, and fewer jobs, which ultimately hurts the American worker.
 
The serviced apartment industry is an overall small, but vital part of the US economy. Given the nature of our business, we have a front row seat to the effects this administration has had on corporate America. When the administration delays and stifles immigration, our clients in turn are limited in how they can grow their companies. They struggle to fill open positions and productivity suffers- this hurts our industry, which is heavily reliant on the ability of employees to easily move between cities. We may see an increase in domestic mobility, but that doesn't offset the loss of business from many of our clients. 

Beyond its impact on visa policy, the "Buy American" policy is a protectionist, anti-trade policy which depresses demand and increases the cost of American goods globally - again, this does not benefit the American worker. Manufacturing employment in particular has been hit hard by NAFTA and other global trade agreements. According to the Economic Policy Institute, NAFTA has cost the US 700,000 manufacturing jobs. While the US has benefitted greatly from skilled H1B labor, we have seen domestic manufacturing decimated by companies in search of cheap foreign labour. The preceding decades have been exceedingly painful for once thriving portions of the country from a labour perspective.

Our industry again provides a window into what can be done to benefit these hard hit regions. Given economic realities, manufacturing jobs will never employ as many people as they once did. As these cities seek to reshape their economies, entrepreneurship and mobility expertise can help aid growing industries in cities once reliant on manufacturing. As an example, almost all large technology companies are investing in data storage and doing so outside of cities we typically associate with tech employment. For example, Apple has opened a data centre in Des Moines, Iowa and Amazon has set up multiple facilities in central Ohio. The data centres, which may require foreign professionals sourced via the H1B process, will create associated business to serve the growing population of professionals working on site. How will they house these foreign professionals who are stimulating local jobs? With serviced apartments. 

Although at first glance it seems logical that newly arriving immigrants are taking jobs away from hard-working Americans, I wouldn't blindly accept this viewpoint - from my vantage point, as part of the serviced apartment community, every immigrant denied a visa hurts the US economy and the future job opportunities and buying power of the American worker.    

Ken Brown is vice president of global solutions at Furnished Quarters. He is a speaker at this week's Serviced Apartment Summit Americas.

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