The CFDA Says ‘Broken & Outdated’ Immigration Laws Are Hurting the Fashion Industry

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Demonstrators rally at Foley Square in lower Manhattan, protesting President Trump's immigration ban in February.
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A “broken and outdated” U.S. immigration system is taking a major toll on the fashion industry, according to the Council of Fashion Designers of America and lobbying group Fwd.us.

The duo today released a new joint report highlighting the impact of immigration policy on the U.S. fashion industry and called for reforms that would “drive innovation in fashion and create jobs for American workers.”

Among its key findings, the report — compiled using information from two industry roundtable discussions and a survey among CFDA members and designers focused on foreign design talent — noted that 42 percent of fashion executives found it difficult to hire foreign workers because of complicated immigration policies.

About 35 percent of those surveyed also said that they were concerned about their ability to retain current talent; 43 percent had fears surrounding their access to top talent; and 39 percent were concerned about the high cost of navigating the existing immigration system.

At a joint press conference in New York today, acclaimed designer and CFDA chairwoman Diane von Furstenberg — who immigrated to the U.S. from Europe in 1970 — lamented the shortcomings of current immigration policies and the impact on an industry with a large immigrant workforce.

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,” von Furstenberg said. “Our immigrant system is confusing — this must change to remain competitive and create jobs for our country.”

The other speakers at the press conference — CFDA president and CEO Steven Kolb, Fwd.us president Todd Schulte, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito — shared the designer’s concerns.

The current immigration system makes no sense for today’s families [nor] today’s economy,” Schulte said. “We think we should modernize our visa system and we should come up with a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented.”

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney highlighted the plight of international students who come to the U.S. to attend prestigious fashion schools, such as New York-based Parsons School of Design and Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), but lack a viable pathway to staying in the country. (According to the most recent enrollment data, provided by the CFDA, 40 percent of students at Parsons and 12 percent of students at FIT are international students.)

Similar to the extensions and special visa opportunities available to students in the STEM fields, Maloney called for a U.S. visa specifically for students in the fashion industry.

The fashion industry has long had a reputation for being vocal when it comes to political matters, but things seem to have accelerated under the new administration. After President Donald Trump signed a controversial executive order on immigration in January, many of the industry’s most prominent leaders have held no punches.

Nike CEO Mark Parker and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos were among the executives to publicly speak out against the order, which targeted seven Muslim-majority countries. Brands such as Under Armour, Asics and Columbia Sportswear, as well as designers, including Kenneth Cole, Robert Geller and Naeem Khan, also publicly criticized the immigration ban.