Chamber report argues for immigration reform

  • Article by: ADAM BELZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 7, 2013 - 9:17 AM

The state business group says many newcomers are entrepreneurial and make key economic contributions.

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While people tend to stereotype immigrants, research shows that Minnesota's newest residents tend to have more Ph.Ds and start more businesses than the population in general.

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Minnesota’s largest business group published a lengthy report Wednesday touting the economic contributions of immigrants and calling again for comprehensive immigration reform.

The 60-page report from the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce argues for a “21st century perspective” on immigration that acknowledges newcomers not just as workers but as entrepreneurs, consumers and an increasingly important bridge to the global economy. While there may be short-term costs to accepting more immigrants, they are outweighed by long-term benefits to the state, the report said.

“People want to pigeonhole immigrants as maybe low-skilled workers, and certainly they fill many low-skilled positions, but also they disproportionately have Ph.Ds relative to the population, they disproportionately start companies,” the chamber’s Bill Blazar said. “Their role in the economy is much broader than what people might traditionally think.”

Of the state’s roughly 375,000 immigrants, just under half are U.S. citizens, between 31 and 40 percent are authorized noncitizens, and between 14 and 23 percent are undocumented, according to the report.

As the U.S. House prepares to take up immigration reform, the chamber’s report argued that the nation’s roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants should be offered a pathway to legal status, a “path to permanency,” as Blazar puts it.

“Some may want a path to citizenship, others may just want a means of getting a green card so they can have legal status to work,” Blazar said. “As far as we’re concerned, you can let the individual choose.”

The report asserted that for every unauthorized immigrant who enrolls in the U.S. Senate’s proposed pathway to legal status, which critics often refer to as amnesty, Minnesota would gain more than $1,876 in economic output in 2014, rising to more than $9,296 by 2020.

State Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, who has clashed with the chamber over immigration, said he doesn’t disagree that immigrants are an important part of the state economy and will be in years ahead. What he questions is any proposal to reward those who came to the United States illegally.

“Legal immigration is very widely embraced by everyone I know and talk to,” Drazkowski said. “The hinge point here is really those folks who don’t follow the laws.”

Much of the chamber’s report focused not on the specifics of the legal status of undocumented immigrants, but on the economic benefits of immigration.

Foreign-born households in Minnesota have a combined buying power of $5 billion per year and pay an estimated $793 million in state and local taxes, the report said. By 2020, immigrants will have accounted for about a fifth of the state’s growth in homeownership since 2000, and newcomers tend to revitalize depressed neighborhoods.

About 44,500 Minnesota businesses are immigrant-owned, the report said, and those businesses are more likely to export than native-owned firms.

And as workers, immigrants tend to fill high- or low-skill jobs that might otherwise go unfilled. The average immigrant worker tends to be younger than native-born workers, and while immigrants comprise only 7 percent of the state’s population, they make up 9 percent of the workforce.

Another report recommendations is that immigrants are so critical to the state’s future workforce that Minnesota may need to shift funding from existing economic development programs to help immigrants integrate in schools, jobs and in finding homes. The state should also consider programs that encourage immigrants to start businesses and pay for their training and job placement.

“Their contributions to the economy grow over time,” Blazar said. “There’s no question that when they first arrive, there’s some cost associated with them becoming part of our community and part of the workforce. But they pretty quickly become part of the workforce and then pay taxes and start contributing like everyone else.”

 

Adam Belz • 612-673-4405 Twitter: @adambelz

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