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Iowa Business Leaders Say State Needs More Immigrants to Empower its Economy

— March 1, 2019

Faced with a sluggish economy and a lack of local talent, Iowa business leaders are demanding leniency for legal and illegal immigrants alike.

Iowa business leaders say the state’s economy could be imperiled unless the federal government enacts meaningful immigration and labor reforms.

The Gazette reports that the coalition outlined an array of concerns. Iowa, faced with stagnating population growth, is facing “shortages of needed talent.” Lacking enough talent in its labor force, the state’s economy is teetering toward peril.

Doug Neumann, executive director of the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, says there are few “dial-moving, transformative” options available to Iowa employers. Immigration, though, is one of them.

Neumann says improved immigration policies could add “hundreds, perhaps thousands of employees” to Iowa’s workforce.

He was one of some 40 business leaders to sign off on the Iowa Compact on Immigration Monday. Along with suits, professors from Drake University, Iowa State University and the University of Iowa voiced their support. The Gazette says that ‘development leaders’ and medical professionals also lent their names to the list.

“It is time to modernize our outdated immigration system to make it truly responsive to today’s economy,” said Jay Byers, CEO of the Greater Des Moines Patrnership. Byers, notes FOX28, suggests changes to the federal work visa program and amnesty for some undocumented immigrants.

Byers said that Iowa’s economy has been stimulated by influxes of international immigrants, who’re settling in the state at rates double the national average.

“We’re a nation of immigrants. We’re a state of immigrants. We’re a region of immigrants,” Byers said. “It’s been a driver of our past and it needs to be a driver in our future.”

The U.S. Capitol at dusk. Iowa business leaders say immigration reform can only be accomplished from within Washington. Image via Wikimedia Commons/user:Martin Falbisoner. (CCA-BY-3.0)

Byers stressed that the federal government needs to find workable, bipartisan solutions. He and other business leaders appear opposed to state legislative efforts that could require that Iowa businesses use E-Verify to check the legal status of prospective employees.

“Immigration policy should be decided at the federal level,” Byers said. “We do not need a patchwork of state laws, whether that’s E-Verify or other issues.”

Byers’ reservations were echoed by Neumann, who said, “In the absence of federal progress, there are only a limited amount of things partners can do to affect immigration policies. I do think it is a specific initiative of this community to say there has to be a federal solution.

“We cannot do this alone,” Neumann said.

However, the Trump administration has taken multiple steps to cut down on all forms of immigration, legal and not. Issuances and renewals of H-1B employment visas have become increasingly complex over the past several years, with more workers being asked to provide more evidence regarding their job offers and educational backgrounds.

In Iowa, some employers say they’re hurting for more H-2B Temporary Non-Agricultural Worker visas. The Iowa City Press-Citizen says that, overall, the United States only issues 66,000 H-2B visas each fiscal year.

Hughes Nursery & Landscaping president Tom Hughes says it’s critical that Iowa get more migrants.

“It is so critical for our industry to have more immigrants come on as guest workers,” he said. “The demand is there, the need is huge. […] it becomes a real challenge for local employers.”

All in all, the group outlined six principles for comprehensive immigration reform: federal responsibility; better visa regimes; a sensible path to citizenship for immigrants who arrive to the United States, legal or not; predictable, federal-level regulations on migration; and local policies that empower local residents and families to empower themselves.


Cedar Rapids, Iowa City business leaders sign onto compact for federal immigration reform

Iowa business leaders call for immigration reform

Iowa businesses urge federal changes on immigration to help boost economy, workforce

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