INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana business leaders want to make it easier for the immigrant population to gain access to visas to deal with the growing labor shortage.

Several leaders in the agriculture and restaurant industries spoke out in a roundtable discussion about the issues with labor. They shared that because of the lack of employees, farms can’t get products to stores and into your home.

“This is not soloed out as an agriculture-issue only. This is something that has ramifications across the entire economy. We need to solve this issue for our farmers but also for all of Indiana’s consumers and consumers across the United States,” one of the attendees said during the discussion.

People in the restaurant industry are also struggling with access to agricultural products. The labor shortage at farms is causing them to not be able to provide sought-after products for people coming to them.

“Without our partners in the agriculture industry to have enough workforce, it doesn’t matter if we have enough workforce in restaurants because we don’t have product,” said Patrick Tamm, president and CEO of the Indiana Restaurant and Lodging Association. “We suffer various menu challenges because we don’t have items in stock. It’s not that we don’t have beef or chicken, it’s that we can’t slaughter them, we can’t process them, we can’t put them on trucks.”

The labor shortage is also driving up prices, which restaurants pass on to the consumer. Some restaurants use different names for these charges: supply chain surcharge, a kitchen appreciation fee or even a fuel surcharge.

Immigrant population may help ease labor shortage

To combat the labor shortage, members at the roundtable turned to the immigrant population. The Immigrant Welcome Center says almost 70% of immigrants in Indiana work in essential industries. Many, however, lost their jobs during the pandemic.

The attendees spoke about the urgency of passing common-sense labor access solutions to address the shortages. This includes streamlining the visa application process.

“On behalf of our immigrant neighbors, I am hoping that elected officials will take note of their impact and their impact on our economy and will pass legislation that will give them access to resources that will allow them to have meaningful employment,” said Gurinder Kaur, CEO of the Immigrant Welcome Center.

Tamm stressed that while they can focus on workforce training, there aren’t enough people in the state of Indiana to support the agricultural workforce. Indiana’s unemployment rate fell to 2.2% in April, the lowest unemployment rate for the state on record.

In May, 62.9% of the labor force was employed or seeking a job, up from 62.6% in April. This is higher than the national participation rate of 62.3%

“If we don’t do this and have a positive conversation about immigration today, it will continue to crush Hoosier households and economy,” said Tamm. “That impact isn’t just on Indiana, it’s throughout the country.”

The attendees called for Senator Todd Young (R-IN) and Senator Mike Braun (R-IN) to improve the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. In 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the act with bipartisan support. Now, Senators Mike Crapo (R-IN) and Mike Bennet (D-CO) are taking the lead to move the process forward.