June 08, 2023

New Bill Provides Important Opportunity to Help Address Restaurant Industry Workforce Challenges

The Essential Workers for Economic Advancement Act would create employment pathways for difficult-to-fill positions
Washington, D.C. – From the drive-through we stop at before practice, to the sit-down restaurant where we celebrate life’s successes, the restaurant industry runs on hospitality. However, 79% of restaurant operators say they currently have job openings that are tough to fill. The Essential Workers for Economic Advancement (EWEA) program would help address some of these challenges.

The program, created by the bipartisan Essential Workers for Economic Advancement Act (HR 3734) introduced by Reps. Lloyd Smucker (R-PA) and Henry Cuellar (D-TX), creates a pathway for workers to come to the U.S. on market-driven, non-immigrant, three-year visas. The program is intended for small businesses in industries with comparatively low sales per employee and would be available for non-agricultural jobs with lower education thresholds that have been unfilled for extended periods of time.

“There is no silver bullet to solving the industry’s recruitment challenge, but this program would be a significant step forward,” said Sean Kennedy, executive vice president of Public Affairs for the National Restaurant Association. “The restaurant industry is growing its workforce at a faster pace than the rest of the economy. We expect to add another 500,000 jobs by the end of the year, but with one job seeker for every two open jobs, operators are fighting to fill positions. This program is a win-win for employers in desperate need of employees and individuals seeking training and opportunity.”

The EWEA will initially be available for up to 65,000 new workers, and after the first year, the number of additional workers could go down to 45,000 or up to 85,000, based on market need.

The foodservice industry is the nation’s second-largest private sector employer, with a workforce of more than 15 million people in nearly one million eating and drinking establishments. The recruitment challenge is not new for the industry. In 2019, more than a third of operators rated recruitment and retention of employees as their top challenge. Today it’s closer to 2 in 5 operators.

Learn more about the Essential Workers for Economic Advancement (EWEA) program here

About the National Restaurant Association

Founded in 1919, the National Restaurant Association is the leading business association for the restaurant industry, which comprises more than 1 million restaurant and foodservice outlets and a workforce of 15.5 million employees. Together with 52 State Associations, we are a network of professional organizations dedicated to serving every restaurant through advocacy, education, and food safety. We sponsor the industry's largest trade show (National Restaurant Association Show); leading food safety training and certification program (ServSafe); unique career-building high school program (the NRAEF's ProStart). For more information, visit Restaurant.org and find @WeRRestaurants on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.