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Why Franchise Businesses Should Care About Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Stephen J. Caldeira, CFE, International Franchise Association President & CEO

Stephen J. Caldeira, CFE, International Franchise Association President & CEO

As the country has embarked on a national conversation about comprehensive immigration reform over the past few months, you may have found yourself thinking about what, if anything, a reform of the nation’s immigration system could mean as a franchise business owner. The truth is, any piece of public policy this wide-ranging will have a tremendous impact over the way our members do business and touch our businesses and employees in direct and indirect ways. We are job creators, and immigration reform will help us to create more jobs.

As an industry that supports one out of every eight private-sector, non-farm jobs, immigration reform will be good for the national economy and for the tens of thousands of franchise businesses that employ foreign-born workers. One of the key tenets of the recently introduced S. 744, The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, is the establishment of a mandatory electronic verification system (E-verify) for all employers. E-verify is something IFA has long advocated for, given that it creates a process for employers to verify the legal status of new workers using a national system, rather than a patchwork quilt of state verification systems that could confuse and add unnecessary costs and complexities for smaller employers like many of IFA’s members. Federal E-verify will also include strong employer protections and safeguards that will ensure if a franchise unknowingly hires an illegal worker who has passed through the federal E-verify system through fraud, and the employer would also be exempt from fines. The bill simply helps to protect employers who do the right thing.

The reform bill also includes an important new visa program, called the W-Visa, which provides opportunities for foreign-workers to be tapped by employers to fill lower-skilled positions in their companies, but only after Americans have had the opportunity to fill those jobs first. Many sectors where franchising is concentrated have jobs with lesser-skilled positions, including restaurants, hotels and service-related sectors, and with the industry forecasted to continue growing in the years ahead, the current flow of workers is insufficient to sustain the number of positions needed to fill these jobs. Put simply, the more higher-paying and higher-skilled jobs we can create for Americans will almost certainly enhance the demand for lesser-skilled jobs, which is why it’s so important for a new visa category for workers who can and want to fill these positions. The W-Visa program will be a win for foreigners and Americans alike.

The bill’s prospects for passage are far from certain, with the ongoing partisan rancor and congressional gridlock taking place in Washington, chances are probably not much better than 50/50. But it’s still important to understand how the bill, and potential immigration reform generally, will impact franchising in myriad ways. It’s also healthy and appropriate to find opportunities to inject franchising into whatever public policy the national conversation will revolve around.

As I learned in a business roundtable of eight franchise executives (including franchisees and franchisors) last month in Scottsdale, Ariz. at the Restaurant Leadership Conference, passing comprehensive immigration reform will give these executives more confidence in Washington’s ability to function again − to get something done by bridging partisan divides that can ultimately fuel the economy. Immigration reform could be the type of issue the country can rally around, something we’ve been sorely lacking in recent years. If we can get immigration reform done, could the prospects for real reform of the tax and spending problems confronting our economy be next? Time will tell. But as the old adage goes, you can’t win if you don’t try. Which is why you will continue to hear from the IFA (and our members) about the reasons we need comprehensive immigration reform to improve the business environment for franchising. That is, after all, the true mission of our organization: to protect, enhance and promote this great industry, and that is what we will continue to do.

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