As president and CEO of the Longview Chamber of Commerce, I have had several East Texas employers come to me with concerns regarding attracting and retaining a workforce. While our population has grown about 2% over the past decade, we haven’t kept pace with the growth seen in the urban areas of Texas.
Many businesses in our region agree that immigrants can help rural America — both East Texas and beyond — meet the unique challenges we face. But we need pragmatic national immigration policy to do it.
In recent years, the U.S. has issued fewer visas for skilled workers (immigrant visas fell 14% between 2016 and 2018), and there’s an enormous green card backlog, preventing many workers from staying in the country or locating here. As of May 2018, nearly 400,000 foreign nationals were awaiting their green cards under the employment-based category. If the state and federal government doesn’t address these problems, I fear we could see our workforce infrastructure crumble and cause harm to our largest employers.
Immigrants across the country are helping revitalize areas that have suffered from the decline of manufacturing. Census data shows a 21% increase in foreign-born residents in our county between 2009 and 2017. These are hard-working individuals who not only launch businesses and create jobs, but fill gaps in our workforce.
For example, one of our medical centers launched an internal medicine residency program in 2012 to address a deficit of primary care physicians in our area. A large percentage of the new residents have J-1 Visas. After graduating, a number of doctors from Asia to Central America have stayed to help serve patients in Longview and Tyler.
By Kelly Hall for NEWS-JOURNAL.COM
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