Panel Asserts Immigration Reforms Key to Economic Growth

At the June 8, 2012 Minnesota Chamber of Commerce panel discussion How Immigration Leads to Economic Growth and American Jobs, three top executives from some of Minnesota’s largest employers – Ecolab, Cargill, and Carlson Companies – shared their views on immigration reform and the future of the workplace.  The resounding message from this session was that the future of the nation’s economy hinges on how effectively we, as a country, incorporate immigrant labor into our work force.

Low, High End Workforce Needs
The panelists reported that the growth rate of Minnesota’s workforce is declining; even during this high-unemployment year there are a wide range of jobs that are left unfilled.  The panelists asserted that the two areas where Minnesota has the greatest need for immigrant labor are at the very highest and the very lowest ends of the job-skills spectrum. Agricultural employers in rural Minnesota struggle to keep young workers in the area to fill the low-skill jobs needed in the farm and dairy industry, and frequently rely on immigrant workers to fill these positions.  However, a lack of immigrant labor leaves many of these low-skill positions unfilled.

On the other end of the spectrum, our larger innovative businesses need to be able to attract the world’s best and brightest candidates with advanced degrees in order to remain competitive in the global economy.  The panelists shared anecdotes about the necessity of having much of this top-level talent work from abroad due to obstacles in obtaining the proper visas which would allow them to work in the U.S, and stressed the economic consequences of these  high skilled workers currently paying taxes, buying homes and shopping in counties more hospitable to immigrant workers

Economic Growth
U.S. employers have a pent-up demand for high-skill and specialty foreign workers, and an inadequate supply of the necessary visas to bring them here. While the U.S. allows only 65,000 such H-1B visas per year, the annual cap for this year was reached on June 11 – less than 2 ½ months into the application period. The fact that year’s cap was not reached until October of 2011 illustrates that the demand for skilled foreign workers is outpacing availability.

The panel stressed that the key to positive immigration reforms is in changing the political conversation to “economic growth” rather than “illegal workers.” Regardless of personal or political views on U.S. immigration policy, the points made by this panel are very relevant to our economic future.

If you are interested in immigration issues and their impact on the Minnesota and U.S. economies, we encourage you to listen to the discussion on Minnesota Public Radio. 

If you have any questions or concerns about applying for an H-1B visa or addressing your company’s I-9 Compliance issues, please contact Mary Ellen Reihsen at 612-338-8788 or via E-mail  View Mary Ellen’s profile here.

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