PORTLAND — Facing an aging population and a labor shortage exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Maine business, faith, education, civic and immigrant leaders held a virtual forum to urge U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King to support bipartisan immigration solutions that would expand our workforce, bring certainty to families and employers, and help our communities and economy grow. The Growing Maine – Bipartisan Immigration Solutions 2021 virtual event took place Friday, June 18. For a link to the recording click here.
Maine has long been the oldest state in the nation, with a median age of 44.6 and more than 20.6% of its population over the age of 65. In 2020, Maine was projected to pass the tipping point of having more residents over age 65 than under age 18. As Maine gets older and Baby Boomers retire, immigrants are an important part of the solution to Maine’s population and workforce challenges, and growing the state’s economy.
Maine’s two largest health care providers, Maine Health and Northern Light Health have over 3,600 job openings ranging from custodians to doctors. Over 20 percent of long-term care facilities and nursing homes are short-staffed. Maine’s world-class hospitality and tourism sectors are facing significant workforce shortages. Many of these businesses are limiting business hours because of an estimated shortage of over 16,000 workers, with not enough nonimmigrant H2B visas or J-1 visas available. Maine needs every single worker it can get.
Organizations participating included: Associated General Contractors of Maine, Barber Foods/Tyson, Eastern Maine Development Corporation, GWI, HospitalityMaine, Luke’s Lobster, Maine Dairy Industry Association, Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Northern Light Health, Portland Public Schools, Retail Association of Maine, Revision Energy, Pierson Nurseries Inc., Penobscot Community Health Care and the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine.
See recording highlights below. For a link to the recording, click here.
Collins said during the event: “Congress should recognize the vital contributions that immigrants make to our economy and our communities. I will continue to work to get sensible reform passed.”
David Barber, Business Development Specialist, Tyson; Former CEO, Barber Foods, Co-Chair of the American Business Immigration Coalition, said during the event: “The time is now. Sen. Collins and King, we are looking for you to lead the way for a bipartisan deal that includes the Durbin-Graham Dream Act, the Crapo-Bennett Senate companion piece to the Farmworker Modernization Act, and to become a co-sponsor for the SECURE Act. It is high time for us to recognize the contribution of immigrants.”
Angela Okafor, Attorney and Bangor City Councilor; Owner, Tropical Tastes and Styles
International Market, said during the event: “I’m calling on Senators Collins and King to please support these (bipartisan immigration) Acts because it’s not just about business, it’s personal…I am a citizen, which enabled me to run for City Council. I have an international market. I own a law practice and I have three kids who are in school here. My husband himself has two pharmacy businesses. (These immigration bills) are very important and needed in the state of Maine to be able to move our economy forward, and also not just attract and keep people here, but also to keep them safe.”
Xavier Botana, Superintendent, Portland Public Schools, said during the event: “My family brought me to this country from Cuba when I was three years old. As refugees from a communist-controlled country 90 miles from the U.S. during the Cold War…I urge Sen. Collins and Sen. King to please sign on to the Durbin-Graham Dream Act and the SECURE Act for families under TPS. My experience and the experiences of many people coming to our country in similar circumstances is evidence that investing in immigrants is smart public policy. Maine needs your leadership and needs immigrants to grow. Please hear us today.”
Paul Bolin, SVP, Chief Human Resource Officer, Northern Light Health, said during the event: “We have 1,500 posted open positions. We know with the demographics of Maine the only age group in our current workforce that is increasing in size is the 65 year and older demographic. We are not going to grow our way out of this with our existing population, we need to attract and retain people to the state of Maine and that includes a significant attraction from immigrant workers coming to Maine and welcoming them into our communities. Sen. Collins and King, I certainly encourage you to continue your wonderful work to support this bipartisan legislation.”
Jake Pierson, MCN, Pierson Nurseries, and member of AmericanHort, said during the event: “We are a proud member of the H2A program. We have six folks from Jamaica that joined us last year. It has absolutely changed our business for the better…Our industry is dependent on immigrant farm workers both here and all over the country. We urge that our folks in Congress work toward immigration reform and support the Crapo-Bennett companion bill to the Farm Workforce Modernization Act.”
Julie-Marie Bickford, Executive Director, Maine Dairy Industry Association, said during the event: “If we are going to address problems like food insecurity in Maine, we must have farmworkers. Passage of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act as amended by the Crapo-Bennett amendment, will expand the very successful H2A program to cover full-time year-round workers. That would be a tremendous help to Maine dairy farmers. We trust in our Maine delegation that you will put the needs of Mainers first and so we urge the passage in the Senate of this critical legislation.”
Ben Conniff, Chief Innovation Officer & Co-Founder, Luke’s Lobster, said during the event: Everyone knows lobster is iconic for Maine, not everyone knows that immigrant workers are so incredibly critical to Maine’s food economy. The shortage of workers in Maine is the number one thing that’s stifling growth in our food economy. Senators Collins and King, I know how much effort you all put into supporting the lobster industry. This is the next major step we need you to take. Please I implore you to support the Durbin-Graham Dream Act, Crapo-Bennet companion bill to the Farm Workforce Modernization Act and cosponsor the SECURE Act. This is the biggest thing that we can do to ensure the health of Maine’s economy going forward.”
The Maine Business Immigration Coalition (MeBIC) recognizes the value of immigration and promotes initiatives, laws, and policies to attract, integrate, and retain immigrants in Maine’s economy and communities as consumers, workers, entrepreneurs and citizens.
The American Business Immigration Coalition (ABIC) promotes common sense immigration reform that advances economic competitiveness, provides companies with both the high-skilled and low-skilled talent they need, and allows the integration of immigrants into our economy as consumers, workers, entrepreneurs, and citizens.