CFDA and Fwd.us call for immigration reform with new report
The CFDA and FWD.us, a bipartisan advocacy organization, on Monday released a report and held a press conference at the CFDA Incubator space in New York City to discuss how the current immigration system impacts the fashion industry.
CFDA Chairwoman Diane von Furstenberg said at the conference, “I have built my brand around the world with the help of many immigrants who share my dream … Immigrants have been the heart of our industry — they have built the largest fashion houses in America. Our immigrant system is confusing — this must change to remain competitive and create jobs for our country.”
Furstenberg, herself an immigrant, was joined by other several immigrant designers who share a similar story, including Phillip Lim, Bibhu Mohapatra, Waris Ahluwalia, and Robert Geller, who recently launched an ‘Immigrant’ t-shirt with Grailed to support the American Civil Liberties Union.
The CFDA and Fwd.us, the pro immigration reform and criminal justice reform organization founded by Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and other business leaders, composed a survey and report based on two roundtable discussions in January that focused on foreign design talent, international students and modeling agencies. The report titled, “Designing an Immigration System That Works,” addresses the reforms fashion industry leaders would like to see, as well as two key concerns: the retention of top talent and the difficulty in navigating the existing immigration system. The report says the latter has prevented designers, brands and schools from recruiting talent and students.
Fwd.us President Todd Schulte also spoke at the press conference and said, “The current immigration system makes no sense for today’s families [nor] today’s economy. We think we should modernize our visa system and we should come up with a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented.”
70% of the survey participants—97% have a US headquarters and 78% are located in New York City—said that foreign talent is “very important” or “absolutely essential” to the growth and success of their businesses. Also, 50% of respondents said they hire qualified immigrants to help with design and atelier work.
Most of the participating companies primarily use H-1B and O-1 visas to recruit talent, and they spend between $5,000 and $10,000 or more per foreign employee. In 2016, only 85,000 people obtained H-1B visas out of the 236,000 that applied.
Fwd.us and the CFDA recommended policy changes to address these concerns, including expanding the visa exception clause to include fashion design and fashion technology. They are also calling for more H-1B visas, that the O-1 visa type be available to the fashion industry, and that undocumented immigrants have a pathway to legalization and/or citizenship.
Such changes would greatly help international students studying at Parsons School of Design and the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. 40% of Parsons students are foreign born and international students comprise 12% of FIT’s student enrollment.
Schulte and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney spoke about the impact on New York City if the fashion industry fails to retain talented students and workers. The New York fashion industry generates $2 billion in tax revenue with $10.9 billion in wages. Over 900 fashion companies are based in New York City, employing 180,000 people, or 6% of the local workforce. In addition, 20% of the fashion workforce in this country is undocumented.
Schulte believes that the country should retain “the best and the brightest, [who] are going to school here” instead of educating them to create jobs elsewhere. Maloney added, “We need to make sure they can stay here, not only to educate them but to be able to contribute to our economy and be able to help make it grow.” She also feels that fashion hubs throughout the country also suffer from the immigration laws.
The fashion industry stepped up in the fight for immigration reform following President Trump’s travel ban and executive order to increase deportation in January.
Several companies denounced Trump’s executive order with campaigns celebrating diversity or products that were sold to support organizations that help and protect immigrants. In April, Uniqlo said it is prepared to cease operations in the US if Trump forces the company to manufacture products in the US.
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