Op-Ed: Ski Resorts Rely on Smart Immigration Reform

Rob Katz, CEO of Vail Resorts, on why smart, ethical immigration policies are required to keep ski towns healthy throughout the United States. Politicians, listen up.

Vail Resorts operates 14 world-class mountain resorts, including 12 across the United States. (reid.neureiter/Flickr/CC BY-NC-N)
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The United States has a long and rich history of welcoming generations of immigrants who have enhanced our country and our culture by contributing their talents, traditions, and entrepreneurial spirit. It saddens me to see how our current immigration system—broken and in desperate need of reform—contradicts these long-standing commitments to diversity and equality.

Vail Resorts runs 14 world-class mountains, including 12 across the United States. In each of our communities, there are significant populations of undocumented immigrants. These people, many of whom have resided here for years, have added tremendous economic and cultural value to our country. Yet, without the opportunity to work legally, these individuals are forced to live in uncertainty and fear, instead of being treated as full members of our communities.

Like other businesses in the travel and tourism industry, our company relies on seasonal workforces to fill a variety of essential guest-facing and back-of-house positions, from lift operators and ski instructors to cooks and housekeepers. Despite significant efforts, we are consistently unable to fill all these seasonal positions with domestic workers, in many cases due to a shortage of affordable housing in our communities. And yet we are unable to hire undocumented workers who are already a part of local towns and cities, live near our resorts, and are highly qualified candidates.

Consequently, our resorts have sought and hired international workers through federal visa programs. Our communities are greatly enhanced by the diversity, and our business benefits from having staff who can speak other languages, understand different cultures, and provide a welcoming, supportive environment for our international guests. One of the most valuable exports the United States can offer the world is tourism, attracting travelers from other countries to our cities, beaches, mountain resorts, and other amazing sights. This international workforce is a critical part of supporting it.

However, without comprehensive immigration reform, American companies will likely be unable to continue their current pace of growth. The near-historic low unemployment rate means that the workforce that many existing and growing businesses need is simply not here. Past proposals considered by Congress would have increased the GDP, reduced the federal deficit, and bolstered many industries, including tourism. The Center for American Progress estimates that proposals to provide a path to citizenship for just one segment of the undocumented population—undocumented youth, or DREAMers—have the potential to add more than $300 billion to the American economy by 2030 and create more than 1.4 million jobs. These are game-changing figures for our country.

While the environment for reform remains contentious and challenging, we must continue our demand for comprehensive change. It’s necessary to bring greater security to our economy, to support all the people who contribute to it, and to uphold our enduring American values.

Vail Resorts, like many businesses, strongly supports immigration reform and the signal it would send to the world that all the people in our communities, documented or not, and all the brave and ambitious employees who work at our company, domestic or international, are welcome and valued in the United States.

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