Jun 9, 2023 - Business

Illinois hospitality industry wants to expedite migrant work permits

Illustration of two signs on a post, one reading "NO ENTRY" and the second reading "HELP WANTED"

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

As Chicago copes with labor shortages, inflation and the ongoing arrival of asylum seekers, a bipartisan coalition is pushing a plan to address all three at once.

What's happening: The nonpartisan American Business Immigration Coalition and Republican governors Eric Holcomb, of Indiana, and Utah's Spencer Cox, are asking the White House to give states power to speed up temporary work permits for both new arrivals and undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. for a while.

  • Gov. JB Pritzker, a Democrat, has also urged federal officials to "expedite work authorizations so that the people who want to live and work here can do so with dignity and provide for their family," Deputy Gov. Sol A. Flores tells Axios.
  • The effort seeks to sidestep stalled legislation in Congress to get the Biden administration to reduce the temporary work permit waiting period from six months to one.

Why it matters: Leaders of Illinois' hotel, restaurant, retail and manufacturing associations say they're strapped for workers.

  • The proposal could reduce the need for public aid to new migrants, a huge point of contention at last month's fiery City Council meeting.

What they're saying: "We're working with the governor [Pritzker] and with leaders across the U.S. trying to get immigrants visas so we can put them to work," Illinois Restaurant Association president Sam Toia tells Axios.

  • Chicago hotels have 1,600 open positions, "yet, our federal government is telling [migrants], 'you have to wait six months until we allow you to work,'" Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association CEO Michael Jacobson told Fox 32 last week after returning from D.C., where he advocated for expedited work visas.

Flashback: As late as last month, former Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she was pressing the issue with any federal official who would listen, but to no avail.

  • Mayor Brandon Johnson didn't return Axios' request for comment on the matter.

Yes but: Leaders at ABIC, an advocacy group for immigration reform that benefits businesses, believe this bipartisan push stands a better chance.

  • "This is not just a Democrat calling for action, it's not just [New York City Mayor Eric] Adams and Lightfoot or Johnson," ABIC executive director Rebecca Shi tells Axios. "This is actually being led by pretty conservative Republican governors … because of labor shortages that they're seeing."

Between the lines: Shi also notes that the proposal builds off pathway programs, including humanitarian parole used for Venezuelans and Cubans this year.

  • "The Border Patrol's own numbers have shown when you provide legal pathways for people it does reduce crossings at the border," she says.

The other side: The Department of Homeland Security, where the rule change on humanitarian parole would have to be approved, didn't return Axios' request for comment.

Editor's note: This story has been clarified to note that the business coalition is advocating for both new arrivals and undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. for a while, not just new arrivals.

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