The National Restaurant Association said it is encouraged that immigration reform is starting to gather momentum early in 2013.

The Association also noted it is continuing to lobby for legislation that makes sense for restaurateurs and other small business owners.

“It looks like a very promising year for immigration,” says Angelo Amador, the NRA’s vice president of labor and workforce policy. “Both the House and the Senate want to do something, and the President just had Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, to the White House to discuss bipartisan immigration reform efforts. It is good news that they’re talking about it.”

But Amador said any immigration bill that goes forward must address the question of legal status for undocumented workers and their families. The legislation also should focus on:

A federal electronic verification program that provides employers certainty in their legal obligations;

Inclusion of the Jobs Originated through Launching Travel, or JOLT Act, which would promote travel and tourism and ease Visa application restrictions for legitimate travelers; and,

Creation of a small, but functional, hospitality-centric foreign workers program that would offer a legal path for foreign workers to come work in the United States to compliment the American workforce.

“Certainly, we would like to see this legislation, particularly in regard to permanent legalization, be as broad as possible,” he says. “The NRA is looking for permanent legal work status for undocumented workers in the U.S. There also should be a national E-Verify program that covers all employers and employees, without exception, but with safeguards in place for those who are doing their best and acting in good faith to follow the law.”

President Obama’s speech last month on immigration reform criticized a shadow economy and unfair business practices that allow companies breaking the rules to get ahead.

“We have to make sure that every business and every worker in America is playing by the same set of rules,” Obama says. “We have to bring this shadow economy into the light so that everybody is held accountable – businesses for who they hire, and immigrants for getting on the right side of the law. That's common sense. And that's why we need comprehensive immigration reform.”

This speech prompted responses from the National Council of Chain Restaurants and the National Restaurant Association. NCCR executive director Rob Green issued a statement January 29 applauding the president and congressional leaders for prioritizing immigration reform, and noted the NCCR’s history of supporting comprehensive and bipartisan reform measures.

“We look forward to working with the Administration and Congress to bring meaningful change to our immigration system so the laws are efficient, effective and most importantly workable for chain restaurant owners, operators and franchisees,” Green wrote.

“We need responsible immigration reform in this country and we need it now.”

The NRA, which represents an industry which employees 13 million individuals, also issued a statement addressing reform efforts.

"We are encouraged by the renewed bipartisan commitment to fix our broken immigration system," says Scott DeFife, executive vice president of policy and government affairs for the National Restaurant Association.

"As the nation's second-largest private sector employer, the National Restaurant Association continues to support federal immigration reforms that include a legal visa system that meets the needs of U.S. employers. An accurate and reliable employment verification system is one part of the fix that is needed to make immigration laws work for U.S. businesses and the U.S. economy. But it's only a first step – eventually, worksite enforcement must be accompanied by provisions that give employers who have made every reasonable effort to hire Americans a way to hire legal foreign workers to keep their businesses open and contributing to the U.S. economy."

The issue of immigration is particularly pertinent to the restaurant industry and restaurant owners who are attempting to stay out of this “shadow economy.”

In a January interview with FSR Magazine, Van Eure, owner/operator of The Angus Barn in Raleigh, N.C., Eure addressed her opinions on the immigration issue and the government’s next steps.

“I think people who have been in this country for a certain number of years, even if illegally, should be granted amnesty,” Eure says. “Then they would have to start paying taxes, living the American way—and stop living under the radar. But we also have to become very vigilant about the borders. We should grant amnesty and then start from scratch.”

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