PORTLAND, Maine, USA. —
Maine Gov. Janet Mills and a state lawmaker who immigrated from Somalia unveiled a proposal Friday to try to solve the state’s dire job shortage by tapping into the state’s large migrant community.
Maine has one of the smallest immigrant populations in the United States. According to the 2020 census, only 4% of the state’s residents were born abroad.
That gradually changed as tens of thousands of people of Somali and other African descent made their homes in Portland and Lewiston, two of the state’s largest cities. The arrivals helped increase the percentage of foreign-born residents by nearly one percentage point between 2000 and 2022, according to census figures.
A bill by Somali-born state legislator Deqa Dhalac has proposed creating the Office of New Americans. He was the first Somali immigrant to become mayor of an American city in 2021, when he took office in South Portland, and was elected as a state legislator last year. Dhalac and Mills said the bill would address workforce shortages in critical sectors such as health care, education and construction.
“Improving how Maine introduces and integrates new Americans into its communities and economy is considered an important strategy to meet the state’s workforce needs, as attracting and retaining new- workforce is a priority for Maine’s economic future,” they said in a press release.
Under Dhalac’s bill, one of the main activities of the new office is to provide pathways for migrant workers to obtain professional credentials and licenses. The office is also responsible for “engaging businesses to increase the employment, retention and development of immigrant employees,” the proposal says.
The bill is up for public hearing on January 30.
At least 18 other states have offices or staff focused on adding immigrants to the workforce.