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Maine Bills Aim to Ease Immigration Work Barriers

If it weren't for immigrants, Maine's population would be declining. (Paul VanDerWerf/Flickr)
If it weren't for immigrants, Maine's population would be declining. (Paul VanDerWerf/Flickr)
February 28, 2019

PORTLAND, Maine – Sponsors of several bills in the Maine Legislature are trying to help immigrants work in the state, in an effort to ease the labor shortage.

Among them, House Bill 647 is aimed at educating and retaining immigrant residents to strengthen the workforce.

It proposes to do this through opening Welcome Centers in places with sizable immigrant populations or where trades are facing work shortages, as well as offering English classes and other programs.

A similar bill passed the Maine House and Senate in 2018, but died in the Appropriations Committee when it didn't get the necessary funding.

According to Beth Stickney, director of the Maine Business Immigration Coalition, the state is trying to attract immigrants because of its declining demographic trends.

"If it weren't for immigrants, our population would be shrinking," Stickney said. "Businesses are just clamoring for workers, and our demographic situation is now widely recognized as being at crisis or near-crisis level – and it's not going to get better if we do nothing."

From 2010 to 2015, about 7,000 immigrants came to Maine. During that same period, the overall Maine population increased by just 1,000.

Stickney explained her theory of why she believes immigrants end up in Maine.

"Immigrants are coming to Maine because Maine has gained a reputation," she stated. "Despite it being col, and despite us being often the 'whitest' state in the nation, we do have a reputation of being relatively welcoming and friendly."

She added the state is also considered safe – which she called "a huge consideration for many immigrants" – and it's a state where more workers are needed, so there are jobs to be had.

However, her organization's research indicates about one-quarter immigrants in the state are underemployed.

This week, HB 647 was referred to committee; a public hearing has not yet been scheduled.

Two other bills that could help immigrants include one that's studying how to make it simpler for skilled workers with credentials from other countries to become credentialed in their professions in Maine; and a bill analyzing how to ease licensing requirements for all workers, not just immigrants.

Laura Rosbrow-Telem, Public News Service - ME