PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Some business and civic leaders in Arizona say the answer to the labor shortage in our state could lie with immigration policy. They’re urging a pathway to citizenship that will help talented workers enter the workforce.
The influential Arizonans — including elected officials, former lawmakers, and CEOs of companies and nonprofits — wrote an open letter to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and Sen. Mark Kelly.
“As business leaders in Arizona, we write to urge you to champion pathways to citizenship for Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, farmworkers, and essential workers, whether within any reconciliation bill that moves forward or by other means that achieve the same goal,” they wrote.
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Though workplaces are generally back open, the ‘Help Wanted’ signs haven’t gone away. “The entire nation is desperate for talent right now. Almost every sector,” said Steve Zylstra, President and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council.
Arizona has about 181,000 open positions. Signers of the open letter, including Zylstra, say a path to citizenship, especially for Dreamers and essential workers, will ease the labor shortage. “There are people who are blocked from working because they're concerned about exposing [their citizenship status], and they're very talented people that could contribute to our economy,” Zylstra said.
Mesa Mayor John Giles also signed the letter, which says 80% of Arizonans support a path to earned citizenship. Mesa is number 20 on the list of U.S. cities with the most DACA recipients. “The idea that we would go out of our way to exclude people and prevent them from participating in the economy when we have such dire need for workforce just doesn't make any sense,” Giles said.
The letter claims immigration solutions could bring in $120 billion of economic activity every year to the U.S.
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“In Arizona, we value immigrants as workers, neighbors, and fellow human beings worthy of dignity and respect. They work hard, pay taxes, and contribute to our state’s economy. The household income of Arizona’s undocumented immigrants is $5.1 billion per year, they pay $556.5 million in taxes each year, and their total spending power is $4.5 billion annually. They are Arizonans and Americans in every way, except paperwork,” the letter states.
Zylstra knows it could take a long time to reach that point in some industries, but not in all of them. “In the farming area, for instance, it could be immediate,” he said. “A lot of farmers aren't able to get the kind of talent that they need to pick their crops right now.
The labor issue isn’t the only reason the signers want action on immigration. “This action is urgently needed to address the acute labor shortage across the state, and it is morally right and politically smart,” they wrote.
In an interview with Arizona’s Family, Zylstra said another difficulty his sector faces is how hard it is for foreigners to get H1B visas for specialty work. He said easing those requirements would open the floodgates of very needed talent.