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Immigrants represent economic force in Minnesota

Immigrants will play a key role in Minnesota's economic future, according to a report released by the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School and the Minnesota Business Immigration Coalition. The contributions range from their entrepreneurial activity, consumer spending, tax payments, and participation in the labor force to their contributions to social and cultural diversity.

The report speaks specifically to the fiscal benefits of immigration that accrue at federal and state levels, noting that these benefits don't necessarily "trickle down" to local communities that receive large numbers of immigrants. In the long term, young new workers and consumers are an economic asset, but this doesn't negate some short-term stresses on local services.

"The biggest mistake that people make when they try to evaluate the 'costs' of immigration is to look at short-term costs, without taking into consideration the long-term benefits that accrue when immigrants enter the labor force," says Professor Katherine Fennelly, the lead researcher for the study. Fennelly has an established career in research on immigrants and refugees in the United States, as well as the preparedness of communities and public institutions to adapt to demographic changes.

Minnesota has a small but rapidly growing population of immigrants relative to the United States as a whole. The foreign-born population comprises seven percent of Minnesota's population compared with 13 percent nationwide. This includes both documented and undocumented individuals, with a wide range of ages, backgrounds, educational levels, and skills.

According to the report, immigrants supply many economic contributions:
- Foreign-born workers account for the majority of growth in the labor force in Minnesota.
- Immigrant-owned businesses generated $331 million in net income in Minnesota in 2000.
- Hispanic-owned firms in the state have grown 350 percent since 1990.
- The U.S. Labor Department reports that the nation has an immediate shortage of nurses, yet the average wait for a nurse to get a "green card" is six years. Rural Minnesota faces a predicted shortage of 8,000 registered nurses in the next decade.
- The U.S. Council of Economic Advisers estimates that the country's net gain from immigration is $37 billion per year.
- Nationwide, immigrants represent 25 percent of physicians and 40 percent of engineers holding doctoral degrees.
- Immigrants are important to the statewide business community in two respects, says Bill Blazar, senior vice president of public affairs and business development at the Minnesota Chamber, the state's largest business advocacy organization.

"We've been dependent on immigrant workers throughout our state's history. There's no evidence that the future will be different from the past," says Blazer. "Secondly, an increasing number of businesses are being created by immigrants."

Federal immigration reform is essential for the state to continue to realize fiscal benefits from immigration, the report argues. The authors recommend increases in visas to match the demand for labor and a clear path to legalization.

In addition, the study calls for local efforts to ensure the full social and economic integration of immigrants. This can be done primarily through state-supported efforts to improve high school graduation rates for immigrant youth and employer-sponsored programs that ensure opportunities for job training and advancement.

The Minnesota Business Immigration Coalition is comprised of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, Minnesota Agri-Growth Council, Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association, Minnesota Milk Producers Association, Minnesota Restaurant Association, and Minnesota Lodging Association.

The full report is available here.

A free, public forum to discuss the findings of this report will be held from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 12 at the Humphrey School. It will include several presentations and a question-answer session with the audience.

Participants will be:

Dean Brian Atwood of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs

Professor Katherine Fennelly of the Humphrey School

Bill Blazar of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce

Rodolfo Gutierrez of HACER to discuss the need for credible research on immigrants

Minnesota State Demographer Tom Gillaspy to address Minnesota's aging population

Professor Raymond Robertson of Macalester College to talk about Mexican workers competing with or complementing U.S. workers

Ana Luisa Fajer Flores, Consul General of Mexico in St. Paul

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