Immigration ‘Part of Worker Shortage Solution’
Immigration can play a critical role helping address Connecticut’s labor shortage crisis.
“I’m here to deliver very, very good news for all of you who are looking to fix the labor deficit problem,” Murtha Cullina partner Dana Bucin told 200 business leaders at CBIA’s April 21 Connecticut Economic Update conference in Trumbull.
“There’s a world of professionals and highly-skilled and lowly-skilled who want to be here in Connecticut. Connecticut is the American dream for a lot of folks you want to hire.”
Bucin was part of a panel discussion with Shipman & Goodwin’s Brenda Eckert and AI Engineers president and CEO Abul Islam and moderated by CBIA president and CEO Chris DiPentima.
Bucin, an immigration attorney and Romania’s honorary consul to Connecticut, explained that there are many people she has met—including Ukrainian refugees—that would love to come to the state, but need sponsorship from a business or individual.
“We could be relocating and resettling,” she said. “There’s funding for resettling a lot of these refugees, but only if they have sponsors.”
Eckert, who heads Shipman & Goodwin’s immigration law practice, reminded the audience that there are also skilled Afghan refugees seeking to enter the country.
“They are looking for sponsors and are available to fill technical and engineering positions.” she said.
“There’s a big talent pool coming through our borders these days.”
Bucin acknowledged the cost of sponsoring an immigrant may turn off some employers, but argued it would be well worth the investment in the long run.
“If you are willing to spend some money on visas and green card sponsorships,” she said, “you’re going to have a lot more labor here at the caliber that you’re seeking.”
Islam began recruiting college-aged immigrants 30 years ago as a practical need, but soon saw even greater value in sponsorship.
“A large amount of Connecticut employers are completely unaware of the talent available,” he said.
He encouraged more employers to sponsor H-1B visas, which offer a maximum of six years of work to foreigners that have at least a bachelor’s degree.
Islam said there is all kinds of talent, particularly engineers, available “if you know how the process works.”
And while some employers say the process is too expensive, Islam said “the situation has dramatically shifted” and become much more affordable.
“This H-1B is a huge opportunity to meet this very serious skills shortage we have in the United States,” he said.
“It’s a huge opportunity for us to tap into the talent that’s around the world itching to come to Connecticut.”
State, Federal Reforms
Bucin said there were opportunities for government to better support immigration efforts, including creating H-1B cap exempt zones around universities.
“We could be setting up such H-1B cap exempt zones around every university interested in any type of field or endeavor,” she said.
“It could be engineering, research and development, entrepreneurship. We have to know it can be done, and it can be a great source of a pipeline of talent.”
DiPentima asked panelists to consider what Connecticut could do to make the state more welcoming to immigrants.
Eckert noted that many immigrants face a series of challenges, including transportation, access to childcare, English language courses, and workforce opportunities.
She emphasized that obtaining a driver’s license can be a major obstacle, explaining that Connecticut needs “to make our drivers licensing system user friendly to foreign nationals who are coming in.”
“All of this will attract foreign workers to our state,” she added.
Bucin called obtaining a driver’s license “an immigrant’s worst nightmare.”
“It is the hardest thing, even for documented immigrants, to get a driver’s license,” she said.
“There is a lag of six months plus for legal immigrants to receive their work permits and in those six months, they cannot get a driver’s license.
“It’s absolutely insane what happens at the DMV. Something needs to be done, because the state of Connecticut is doing it, not the federal government.”
Islam highlighted a law in New York that allows any person with a valid passport to be able to obtain an ID and driver’s license with no questions asked.
He called for this policy to be adopted in Connecticut as having a valid ID is the first step toward getting an apartment and opening a bank account.
“If you don’t have anything, you can’t do anything,” Islam said.
In addition, making it easier to procure an ID allows immigrants to settle down, giving them the chance to “really add a lot of value to our economy.”
DiPentima closed the discussion asking what the number one thing employers can do to capitalize on immigration.
Bucin recommended embracing the sponsorship of immigrants and an audit of HR practices.
“HR processes are blocking out folks from Connecticut colleges who are foreign but are studying here,” she said.
“Make sure you’re not blocking 75% of the eligible workforce in the STEM field.”
Eckert encouraged employers to reach out to their elected officials to “get serious about immigration reform.”
“We are far behind Canada and other countries in terms of opening our doors to skilled and unskilled foreign workers,” she said.
“We need to increase the H-1B visas. We need to get them back up to the dot-com era.”
Islam echoed Eckert, noting that more H-1B visas are needed immediately, referencing the talent leaving Connecticut’s Department of Transportation and the skilled labor shortage in the state.
“It has to be now,” he emphasized.
EXPLORE BY CATEGORY
Stay Connected with CBIA News Digests
The latest news and information delivered directly to your inbox.