The Council of Fashion Designers of America and FWD.us developed their new immigration report by convening two consecutive industry roundtable discussions focused on foreign design talent, international students and international modeling talent.
There were 100 respondents in the study, 97 percent of whom are headquartered in the U.S., and 78 percent located in New York City.
Seventy percent of the study participants indicated that foreign talent is either “very important” or “absolutely essential” to the growth and success of their business, using mostly the H-1B and O-1 visas to recruit talent in highly skilled specialties such as atelier work and design. Companies in the industry said that they need additional resources to help navigate the complicated immigration system, and a majority cited high costs, $5,000 to $10,000 or more per foreign employee.
The CFDA and FWD.us recommended the following policy changes to address these challenges:
- Study and consider expanding the definition of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) exception under the Optional Practical Training (OPT) to include the fields of fashion design and fashion technology.
- Increase the number of H-1B visas offered, expand the definition and reform the O-1 visa to suit the specialized needs of the fashion industry, create an entrepreneurial visa and provide more resources on navigating the immigration system to companies hiring foreign talent.
- Create a pathway to legalization and/or citizenship for undocumented immigrants, which would include many seamstresses, tailors and garment workers.
The study noted that the U.S currently doesn’t have a visa for entrepreneurs, making it nearly impossible for a foreign designer to start his or her own company in the U.S. unless he or she is a legal permanent resident or naturalized citizen.
The study pointed out that in January, the White House announced a ban that restricts immigration and travel to the U.S. for nationals of seven countries, including visitors and refugees. Following a court case, the White House issued a revised ban in March that restricts travel for nationals of six countries: Iran, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya. The report notes that increased restrictions on immigration and travel to the U.S. are likely to have “significant consequences for New York’s fashion industry, as well as tourism and higher education across the state.”
After the first ban, NYC & Co., the city’s marketing organization, downgraded its tourism projections, predicting 300,000 fewer visitors this year than last year, resulting in estimated losses of $600 million for city businesses that cater to tourists. The study cited statistics from NFSA, an international education association, that said international students contributed $32.8 billion and supported more than 400,000 jobs in the U.S. economy during the 2015-16 academic year. University administrations are concerned that the immigration ban could result in a decline of international student applications by as much as 30 percent from 2016 levels in some programs, which could dramatically reduce the talent pool and curtail innovation and ultimately job creation in the fashion industry.
In January, the White House issued an executive order facilitating the deportation of more than 11 million undocumented immigrants. Undocumented immigrants constitute 20 percent of all workers in the U.S. clothing and manufacturing industries, and 4.2 percent of all workers in wholesaling and retailing, according to research by Jeffrey Passel and D’Vera Cohn. That research said deportation would cause a reduction in the fashion industry’s workforce. The report notes that the federal government would have to spend about $400 billion to $600 billion to deport the 11.3 million undocumented immigrants in the country unlawfully. New York State would have to pay $49.2 billion to the federal government to support the deportation of roughly 600,000 undocumented New Yorkers, and New York City employment would decline by more than 340,000 jobs, more than both the 2001 and 2008 recessions.