The Education and Workforce Subcommittee of Governor Mills’ Economic Recovery Committee invited MeBIC to provide information and ideas aimed at ensuring that immigrants are fully included both in Maine’s plans for short term recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, and also in the talent attraction and development goals set out in the Maine Economic Development Strategy 2020-2029. In addition to presenting and answering questions at a Subcommittee meeting, MeBIC provided its top recommendations to the Subcommittee on September 3, 2020.
MeBIC underscored that the need for Maine to address the lack of affordable, high quality childcare, affordable housing, robust public transportation infrastructure, and no-barrier access to quality healthcare is urgent for Maine’s immigrants, as it is for all workers regardless of immigration status, particularly those who are low-income.
MeBIC also recommended that for talent development, Maine must:
- substantially increase capacity for adult education English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and combined ESL/job skills classes, through full funding of LD 647, An Act To Attract, Educate and Retain New State Residents To Strengthen the Workforce, a bill already approved by both chambers of the State Legislature;
- create a standard driver’s license available to state residents without regard to immigration status, as 15 other states have done, which would improve immigrants’ work and family mobility, and facilitate the ability of asylum seekers who are stuck waiting more than a year for their work permits to work as independent contractors;
- support ongoing efforts to reduce or prevent immigrant “brain waste” by easing barriers to professional licensure for those whose education, skills, and credentials were acquired abroad, and follow the recommendations of those working on this issue, such as Maine’s Department for Professional and Financial Regulation.
To attract new immigrant talent to the state, Maine should:
- ensure immigrant access to General Assistance, which serves as a workforce attraction tool by helping asylum seekers and other immigrants meet their basic needs while they wait for their work permits, and is quickly repaid through their income taxes once they begin work;
- actively engage with Maine’s Congressional delegation to oppose recent immigration reforms that, among many others, drastically reduce the ability of professional workers, immediate family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, as well as refugees and those selected in the visa lottery, to immigrate to the U.S., that delay or prevent asylum seekers from working, and that prevent foreign workers and students from coming to the U.S., and work with the delegation to pass legislation modernizing the nation’s outdated immigration system so that it aligns with the U.S.’s and Maine’s economic and family needs.
In addition to these recommendations, MeBIC included more than a dozen other suggested policy initiatives, several of which could be accomplished relatively quickly without legislation or substantial financial investment, to help Maine attract and retain immigrants by becoming a national leader in reducing inequities and advancing immigrants’ opportunities and ability to reach their full potential.
Despite the pandemic, Maine’s demographic challenges as the nation’s oldest state, coupled with low birthrates, mean that Maine still needs new workers to come to and settle in the State. Becoming a destination of choice for immigrants is critical, if Maine is to have strong communities and a strong workforce in the future.
The Governor’s Economic Recovery Committee appears to be aware of this. MeBIC was pleased to be invited to contribute to their work through the Education and Workforce Subcommittee.