Travel bans due to the worldwide pandemic have hit businesses and industries hard. Sectors including agriculture, hospitality, tourism, and more have had to try to stay operational with labor shortages that have deepened thanks to COVID, leaving employers desperate for workers.
The hospitality industry alone lost 2.5 million jobs last year, and saw $240 billion less in earnings than pre-pandemic projections. Operating with reduced hours, weekly closings, and added delivery services have become the norm.
In The National Law Review discussion of foreign worker shortages, Envoy Global CEO Richard Burke describes a perfect storm of demand for labor, pandemic-caused labor shortages, and supply uncertainty. Industry leaders, like North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association CEO Lynn Minges, say there just aren’t enough workers to fill the job openings employers have trouble filling because of COVID issues including the travel bans.
There’s some relief in sight though as COVID-19 travel bans will end in November with vaccination and testing requirements replacing them.
White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients announced a decision to open air travel from 33 countries for fully vaccinated travelers. The decision will allow those with relatives and business links in the U.S. to travel again. The lift on the travel ban will include European countries such as Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and Britain, as well as China, India, South Africa, and Brazil. The new vaccine rules include land borders with Canada and Mexico.
Although no exact date has been announced, Zients slated early November for the new rules. Complete details of the new policy have not been finalized or announced, but COVID-19 vaccine requirements will apply to almost all foreign nationals traveling to the U.S. from abroad. Proof of a negative test before and after arrival is part of the plan to replace bans with vaccine and testing requirements, but no quarantine requirements.
While the final decision on what vaccines will be accepted hasn’t been announced yet, the White House has left it to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). CDC spokesperson Kristen Nordlund says approved vaccines will be those authorized by the FDA and World Health Organization (WHO), but could change.
Law firm Fisher Phillips notes that vaccines Sinopharm and Sinovac are approved by WHO for emergency use and are used in China and other countries, but may be in question for approval after the travel ban is lifted. Another question yet to be answered is what proof of vaccination will be accepted and what measures will be used to avoid fraud.
Employment law firms like Fisher Phillips suggest that employers with international visitors coming to the U.S. on work visas or business meetings should start now to encourage travelers to get vaccinated.
Professional services network KPMG advises employers to watch for CDC updates about implementation rules and accepted vaccines, as well as information about contact tracing by airlines. Be aware of continuing delays and backlogs at U.S. consulates and embassies worldwide affecting foreign nationals requiring travel visas. Pandemic-related staffing issues affecting consular operations mean travel plans must be flexible and allow plenty of time for processing.
The change from travel bans to vaccine and testing requirements is likely to have a positive effect on overseas recruitment, especially with the Department of Homeland Security adding an additional 22,000 temporary worker visas (H2-B visas) because of increased labor demands and shortages.
Business groups are happy about the end to travel bans that are expected to help with labor shortages, as U.S. employers are posting record numbers of job openings. U.S. Chamber of Commerce head of international affairs Myron Brilliant believes that allowing vaccinated foreign nationals to travel to the U.S. will help the American economy to recover.
Lifting the travel bans is being celebrated by the airline industry and countries with economic ties to the U.S., the U.K. especially. It’s seen as a major breakthrough in boosting trade and tourism and strengthening business ties. Immigration experts like law firm Akin Gump counsel Maka Hutson say the travel bans were particularly frustrating for European executives who couldn’t travel to the U.S. for business. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson also sees it as favorable to business and trade.
Others see it as even more favorable not only to European and U.S. business and trade but to worldwide economic recovery. TripActions CEO Ariel Cohen feels it will open floodgates for industries such as airlines, hospitality, and tourism. Other travel industry leaders like Business Association Travel CEO Clive Wratten feel the travel ban should be lifted sooner than November.
The upcoming lift on travel bans could positively impact workforce shortages traditionally met with foreign workers, for the hospitality industry especially. Employers are increasingly in need of foreign visa workers even though business owners like Michigan farm owner Jason Ruhlig say it’s not ideal.
It costs an estimated $1,500 to $3,000 per worker, and studies show foreign visa worker wages are outpacing all U.S. wages. Mission Point Resort CEO Mark Ware says it’s worth it though because U.S. workers aren’t showing up for interviews or jobs.
Easing pandemic travel restrictions for foreigners is a bright spot on the horizon that has employers and businesses breathing a little easier.
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