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Maine business, economic development leaders back immigration reform

Date:

August 4th, 2016

Maine business and economic development leaders have joined a push to reform the nation’s immigration laws, arguing the aging state desperately needs young and skilled workers.

On Wednesday, a coalition of national business leaders and elected officials released detailed information on the economic impacts of immigration in each state. The reports from the Partnership for a New American Economy – a group headed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and media mogul Rupert Murdoch of News Corp. – are part of a campaign to pressure Congress to reform federal immigration laws.

 The Maine-specific report states that 4,017 immigrants were self-employed in Maine in 2014 and that immigrant-owned businesses generated $60.8 million in business income while employing another 14,659 people. Immigrants to Maine were 53 percent more likely than Maine natives to hold graduate degrees and accounted for 40 percent of all computer systems analysts, 19 percent of physicians or surgeons, and 10 percent of those working in tourism-related “traveler accommodation” fields.

Immigrants earned an estimated $1.3 billion in 2014 and paid roughly $360 million in state, local and federal taxes, according to the report.

Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said Wednesday that the immigrant community can help address some of the “severe challenges” facing the state’s employers while helping to contribute to the economy.

“Not only do they contribute … but clearly they bring with them skills and talents to meet the needs that exist” in Maine’s business sector, Connors said in a teleconference organized by the Partnership for a New American Economy.

With one of the oldest populations in the country, Maine is facing what some experts have referred to as a “demographic winter” as more Mainers age out of the workforce. The state has also struggled to retain young workers and families – a major focus of the LePage administration – drawn to more opportunities or better pay in other states.

At the same time, many employers seeking high-tech or high-skilled workers say there are not qualified workers to fill open positions in Maine.

“Even if we retained all of the young people, we still wouldn’t have the quantity of future workers that we need … so we need to look beyond our borders,” said Ryan Neale, program director at Maine Development Foundation, a nonprofit that works on economic development issues and programs statewide.

The partnership timed the reports to coincide with the August congressional recess in hopes that lawmakers will hear from businesses and constituents about the need for immigration reform. The prospects for such reform are dim, however, given the current political environment.

Congress will not take up a major immigration reform bill prior to the November elections. And much of the debate over immigration is currently being driven by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who has called for deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants, temporarily banning immigrants from Muslim nations and more thorough vetting of refugees or asylum seekers.

Peter Landis, an immigration attorney with the Portland firm Landis, Arn & Jaynes, said Congress needs to stop treating immigration like the third-rail of politics.

“That’s got to end,” said Landis, whose firm works with businesses seeking help bringing in or retaining a highly skilled worker. “We’ve got a dysfunctional immigration system that needs to be addressed . . . so that employers can bring in the labor that is needed, both high-skilled labor and low-skilled labor.”

Maine has experienced a surge in immigrants from central African nations, some as refugees processed through federal resettlement programs and other who arrive in the U.S. and later file for asylum. Many of those seeking asylum currently face a years-long wait for an interview with a federal immigration officer reviewing their applications, however.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage has pushed to limit state welfare assistance for asylum seekers even as he calls for improvements to the federal system to speed up the process and allow asylum applicants to work.

 

 


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