March 29, 2022

Restaurant Industry Applauds New Program to Help Address Workforce Challenges

The Essential Workers for Economic Advancement program broadens job opportunities in the restaurant industry
Washington, D.C. – If you ask any restaurant owner or operator, they will tell you that their employees are their greatest asset. In an industry built on hospitality, from the front of the house to the back of the house, a restaurant can only run well when it’s fully staffed. However, current recruitment challenges in the industry are forcing restaurants to limit their service and close additional days. The Essential Workers for Economic Advancement (EWEA) program would help address some of these challenges.

The program, created by the Essential Workers for Economic Advancement Act introduced in the House last night, 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 creates one opportunity to address the issue,” said Sean Kennedy, executive vice president of Public Affairs for the National Restaurant Association. “The overlapping blows of the pandemic and now an inflationary economy are limiting industry operations. For restaurants to fully recover and grow, we have to be open at full capacity — and to do that we have to continue to grow our workforce. 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 workers, but after the first year, the total number of workers is determined by market-based need. The number of workers in the program cannot exceed 85,000.

“The Essential Workers for Economic Advancement Act addresses a pressing problem for a host of industries that is stalling economic growth – a chronic worker shortage. Restaurants are vital drivers in every community, so I appreciate the on-going input and support of the National Restaurant Association in bringing this legislation to introduction,” said Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-PA).

“We appreciate Rep. Smucker’s willingness to work with us for the last few months to ensure this bill will meet some of the unique needs of the restaurant industry, and his leadership getting it introduced in the House. We look forward to working with Congress to pass this essential tool to help the industry address its workforce shortage,” said Kennedy.

The foodservice industry is the nation’s second-largest private sector employer, with a workforce of more than 14 million people in nearly one million eating and drinking establishments. According to the National Restaurant Association 2022 State of the Restaurant Industry report, roughly half of operators expect recruiting and retention of employees will be their top challenge in 2022. This challenge is not new for the industry. Prior to the pandemic in 2019, more than a third of operators rated recruitment and retention of employees as their top challenge.

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 and find @WeRRestaurants on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.