Just as Americans are starting to travel in even higher numbers than before the pandemic, worker shortages are straining the ability of the hospitality industry to keep up.

And so far, lawmakers’ actions to address this problem only amount to a drop in the bucket.

The Biden administration recently announced that it is issuing an additional 64,716 H2-B temporary foreign worker visas for 2023. This is in addition to the 66,000 H-2B visas typically available each year, making it the largest-ever supplemental visa increase.

It might sound like a lot. And it will certainly help the hospitality industry ahead of next summer’s peak season. But unfortunately, the total number of available visas does not come close to the estimated 1.5 million open jobs in the hospitality industry.

Filling positions remains a top concern among the nearly 20,000 members of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA), where I serve as the president and CEO. AAHOA members own 60 percent of all hotels in the U.S. and employ over one million people, making them key contributors to local economies across the country.

Some hotel owners have installed self-check-in kiosks because they do not have enough staff to cover the front desk. One of our members even had their parents come out of retirement to help cover some shifts.

Technology can help with hotel operations like check-in, issuing room keys and ordering room service. Many tasks central to running a hotel, like cleaning rooms, however, still require in-person labor. And travelers appreciate a personal touch.

Our members not only own hotels, but many also staff their front desks overnight and perform other tasks as needed. They are committed to exceeding their guests’ expectations. But they need enough workers to back them up and make sure every guest receives the attention they deserve.

There is much more we can do to alleviate this severe labor shortage.

First, we should eliminate caps on the H2-B visa program altogether so there are no constraints on addressing employers’ needs for additional seasonal workers. While people from more than 80 countries are currently eligible to apply for these visas, we ought to expand the list to include places like India – where a significant number of our members have roots.

Many of our members are immigrants themselves or come from families of immigrants. They understand better than anyone how allowing people in search of better job opportunities to come to the U.S. is a win-win for our communities.

The hospitality industry is not the only one that depends on seasonal workers to meet consumer demand. Key sectors of the economy like tourism, landscaping, seafood production and more rely on these workers in places where there are simply not enough U.S. workers available.

Another way we can make it easier for hotels and other employers to find workers is to allow these visas to be valid for multiple years, so that businesses do not have to undergo the onerous filing process every year.

We also believe that establishing a whole new visa category for non-agricultural hospitality workers would help address critical labor shortages.

Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-Pa.) has introduced a bill, the Essential Workers for Economic Advancement Act, that would help fill this very need currently unaddressed in the U.S. immigration system. Under this bill, the visas would be issued for three years and would be renewable for up to another six years. Despite broad support from all sectors of the restaurant, seafood distributors, global convenience and fuel retailing industries, this bill has yet to be even considered in the House committee process.

We should also speed up the process for refugees to obtain work visas. Dozens of America’s largest employers, including hospitality brands like Hilton, Hyatt, IHG Hotels & Resorts, Marriott International and Red Roof, recently pledged to hire 22,725 refugees over the next three years, including many from Afghanistan.

Too often, the process takes months or even years for refugees to secure visas to settle in the U.S. from areas ravaged by conflict. This means that employers desperate for workers are missing out on potential employees who have already demonstrated themselves to be determined and resilient.

There are also ways we can encourage more people already in this country to rejoin the workforce. Fewer caregiving options, early retirements, and an overall decrease in workforce participation are among the reasons for the current labor shortage.

That is why lawmakers should further expand the number of workers eligible for the earned income tax credit (EITC) to lift many people out of poverty, as they briefly did last year as part of the American Rescue Plan by lowering the eligibility age to 19 and removing the cut-off age.

We and others in the Critical Labor Coalition – which advocates for ways to solve our nation’s worker shortage – believe that eliminating age limits for the tax credit would help encourage people, including young adults without children and retirees, to return to work.

Clearly, there is no shortage of options to address the shortage of hospitality workers. We must do more to rebuild our workforce and ensure that hotels across America are more hospitable than ever.

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