A new approach to working with Minnesota’s refugee and immigrant communities
By Deputy Commissioner Hamse Warfa
St. Paul, Minn. (Feb. 20, 2020) — The state of Minnesota has a strong commitment to welcoming new immigrants and refugees. In December, Governor Walz sent a letter to the Trump Administration reinforcing that Minnesota will continue to welcome refugees, saying: “Refugees strengthen our communities. Bringing new cultures and fresh perspectives, they contribute to the social fabric of our state. Opening businesses and supporting existing ones, they are critical to the success of our economy. Refugees are doctors and bus drivers. They are entrepreneurs and police officers. They are students and teachers. They are our neighbors.”
Here at DEED, we know that immigrants and refugees strengthen Minnesota’s workforce and Minnesota’s communities in all regions in our state. Some immigrants open new businesses, bringing retail and restaurants back to Main Street. And many who don’t open their own business, go to work, particularly in high-demand occupations: nearly 40% of butchers and meat packers; more than 30% of software developers and computer application and system engineers; and more than 18% of personal care aides are immigrants.
New Leadership for Inclusion
Recognizing the vitally important role that New Americans play in Minnesota’s culture and economy, our state is renewing its promise to be a place where immigrants and refugees feel welcomed, supported, and valued. I am excited to share that through a public-private partnership, we will hire an Assistant Commissioner for Immigrant and Refugee Affairs at the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).
The Assistant Commissioner will lead an interagency effort across Workforce and Economic Development, Transportation, Health, Education, Higher Education, and other state government entities to coordinate strategies and actions for increasing immigrant and refugee participation in our communities. This new role is an opportunity for our state government to examine its own systems and policies that may be slowing down or preventing immigrants and refugees from finding work or starting their own business. Some of those barriers, like housing, child care, and transportation, are challenging for many Minnesotans. Other issues, like recognizing credentials and licenses from foreign education institutions, are more specific to immigrants. Our state government can work smarter—together—with new Americans, employers, local governments, nonprofits, and other partners to create the welcoming communities we want.
New Americans Essential to Minnesota Economy
Without the addition of new Minnesotans, our culture and economy would be less strong than it is today. While Minnesota’s overall labor force growth was slowing, the number of immigrant workers in the state increased by more than 80,000 workers from 2010 to 2018 — a 33% increase. During that same time period, the native-born workforce expanded by 57,000 workers, a 2% increase. Our goal with the new Assistant Commissioner role, and the new interagency coordination, is to remove structural barriers that prevent immigrants and refugees from participating in the workforce, leverage New Americans’ entrepreneurial spirit to start and grow Minnesota businesses and more fully engage immigrants and refugees in all aspects of Minnesota’s civic and economic life.
– Deputy Commissioner Hamse Warfa