Nebraska - Immigration key to state’s future prosperity
Omaha showing a river or creek, a skyscraper and a park
There are close to 80,000 unfilled jobs in Nebraska.
The birth rate in the state is continuing to decline as are the number of students in elementary and high schools and enrolled in the state’s colleges and universities, demographic changes that will ensure a continuing employment crisis well into the future.
That dramatic employment shortage is why immigration reform and refugee placement are at the top of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s agenda for 2023
“We’re at a point where everyone who wants to work is working,” Chamber President Bryan Slone said at a media briefing last month. “The pipeline is getting smaller. We need to retain our young people, but we also need to add new people. ... We need many, many more qualified immigrants.”
Immigration reform is largely a federal issue that has, frankly, been complicated by grandstanding stunts by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sending refugees to Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., to make political points about the crisis that saw more than 2.5 million immigrants cross America’s southern border last year with little done by the Biden Administration to stop the surge.
But the border crisis is not the only immigration issue. Rather, the reform needed should address border security and create a pathway for legal immigration for those now seeking asylum at the border as well as those who are living and working in Nebraska and other states under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, aka the Dreamers.
The latter is particularly critical for Nebraska in light of reports that many DACA residents are leaving the United States for other countries because of decades of uncertainty over their status.
Immigration reform, which has been under consideration in the U.S. Senate, will continue to be so next year. Any measure that can be passed by Congress also should find a way to allow more legal immigrants from around the world, and, particularly, attract those highly qualified to work in the burgeoning tech and health care economy.
Also at the federal level, the Biden administration should loosen Trump-era restrictions on the number of refugees permitted to enter the country, allowing more of those fleeing conflicts in Ukraine, Afghanistan and in central and South America to come to Nebraska, and particularly Lincoln, which has been a refugee resettlement center for decades.
And those refugees need to continue to be welcomed across the state and provided services, from both the public and private sector, for housing, English language learning and obtaining employment.
On the state level, the chamber’s 2023 legislative agenda also aims at addressing the workforce shortage, pushing the housing, education and child care initiatives needed to help attract and retain an adequate workforce.
Failure to address the workforce crisis will, as Slone noted, severely limit Nebraska, economically, socially and culturally well into the future, making immigration reform and refugee resettlement critical issues to be pressed for by Nebraskans in Washington, D.C., and at the state Capitol.