May 26, 2022


Skillful Business Crafters

Minnesota could expand support for immigrant workers, business owners

Minnesota immigrants and refugees who own businesses or are looking for work could get help from the state under a proposal before the Legislature.

The state Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) is asking for about $470,000 a year to establish an Office for New Americans that would support immigrant entrepreneurs and connect recent arrivals with jobs that suit their skills, at a time when Minnesota is facing a historic workforce shortage.

“There are a lot of businesses, I think, in Minnesota who want to hire immigrants, but they don’t have a multiperson HR team that speaks multiple languages, or they may not really know community leaders in immigrant communities,” said DEED Commissioner Steve Grove. “We want to fill that gap.”

Immigrants have driven the bulk of Minnesota’s recent workforce growth, and accounted for more than 10% of the state’s available labor force in 2020 — up from 8% a decade earlier, according to U.S. census data from the American Community Survey compiled by DEED. Immigrants also make up a significant portion of the state’s entrepreneurs: About 4% of foreign-born workers, or nearly 12,000 people, reported that they were self-employed.

About two years ago, DEED launched a grant-funded pilot program led by Assistant Commissioner for Immigrant and Refugee Affairs Anisa Hajimumin to do the work that the Office for New Americans would continue. During the early part of the pandemic, that involved helping workers and business owners navigate unemployment and small-business assistance, Grove said.

The new office would continue to focus on workforce development by connecting employers with immigrant workers, Grove said, including through community events such as job fairs and workforce seminars. It would also create a council of representatives from every government agency “who are involved in the effort and make commitments to immigrant communities that are relevant to their work,” he said.

Grove and Hajimumin will participate in a community roundtable to promote the Office for New Americans idea on Thursday at Mercado Central in Minneapolis.

DFL Gov. Tim Walz’s supplemental budget recommendation includes $470,000 to establish the Office for New Americans, plus $940,000 to fund the office in the following two years. House Democrats included funding for the office in their budget, but Senate Republicans have not. If negotiations during the final weeks of the legislative session don’t result in a funding agreement, Grove said, money will run out within months.

“All of this — it’s both the right thing to do morally, because these new Americans deserve a warm Minnesota welcome and the assistance that they need to be successful,” he said. “But take the moral issue out of it for a second — it just makes good economic sense.”