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From the editor: NRN lifts curtain on foreign-born workforce

In this in-depth special report, Immigration Impact, the Nation’s Restaurant News editorial team shines a light on the role of foreign-born workers in the foodservice industry. 

Whether it’s people working in kitchens, running sophisticated franchise companies or picking the vegetables you serve your customers, it’s not a secret that the industry relies on foreign-born workers. Yet the extent to which immigrants are part of the fabric of the food economy is surprising — even to us.

Consider this:

 Foreign-born professionals run 29 percent of all restaurants and hotels, according to U.S. census data.

 More than 23 percent of people working in restaurants are foreign born, the National Restaurant Association found.

 Between 50 and 70 percent of the farm labor workforce is likely undocumented, according to a 2014 American Farm Bureau study. 

In this report, we explore how foreign-born employees — both legal and undocumented — influence the restaurant workforce, the U.S. food supply, the consumer and the economy. 

We review existing immigration laws and break down the new administration’s enforcement philosophy and proposed policy changes that might affect restaurants.

And we outline how restaurants can prepare for a possible increase in worksite raids. 


The new administration’s stricter stance on immigration policy occurs at a time when restaurants are struggling to fill jobs. At the Last Vegas COEX conference in March, Louis Basile, president of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Wildflower Bread Company, said tough local immigration laws enacted in 2007 caused the Arizona workforce to “dry up.”

“Great people want opportunities to progress in an organization, and without a workforce to fill the slots that we have, we end up basically spending most of our time really trying to find, train and retain help instead of building the business and building the skills that are so necessary to advance your career in life.” 

On the same panel, Wolfgang Puck Worldwide’s president Joe Essa said the issue of immigration policy “comes back to fairness.”

“I think we have to protect our workforce and our nation, but we also have to be fair about offering the opportunities that support all of us. [At] our company, for example, Wolfgang came from Austria 38 years ago. I’m a short Lebanese guy in our group. That’s what we’re made of,” he said.

As seen in the recent election, the topic of immigration is a polarizing one — and one where tensions run high. In this report, we aim to provide a balanced view of how proposed changes to immigration policies might impact restaurants’ workforce and bottom line.

Jenna Telesca, Editor-in-Chief

E-mail: [email protected]

Twitter: @jennatelesca

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