Lawmakers discuss refugee resettlement effects on North Dakota

By  | 

There are nearly 13,000 open jobs in North Dakota and Job Service ND says there aren't enough applicants to fill them.

Photo courtesy KVLY

Where are the openings? The most job openings are in Healthcare Practitioners and Technical (1,313) , Office and Administrative Support (1,049), Transportation and Material Moving (983) and Sales (824). Lawmakers are looking at "New Americans", a mix of foreign born workers and resettled refugees, as a way to help fill jobs.

At his Fargo Manufacturing plant, Mike Arntston employs people from 30 different countries. Eighty-five percent of those he hired in 2017 were New Americans.

"Most of them at some point were refugees from war-torn countries,” says Arnston.

More than 24,000 foreign born people live and work in North Dakota. Some lawmakers say those foreign workers fill the gaps in a job rich, worker poor economy.

"It's hard to grow economically if you don't have a workforce that's willing to do the job,” said Rep. Kathy Hogan, D-Fargo.

Not everyone agrees.

"So how can you make the assertion that they are adding to the economy without knowing the costs?" asked Rep. Daniel Johnston, R-Kathryn.

According to NewAmericanEconomy.org, a bipartisan group of more than 500 mayors and business leaders, from 2010 through 2016 foreign-born people in the state paid $224 million in taxes, employ more than 11,000 people, have a higher labor participation rate than native born North Dakotans and are more likely to have a graduate degree.

"I think there's a need for more workers. I think with the federal immigration policies, whether we will be able to access them is unclear,” said Hogan.

In November, the Trump Administration ended a program that allowed 59,000 Haitians to work in the country. An action that will have a direct impact on Arnston's business, who will lose three employees.

"Two of those gentleman from Haiti are team leaders and we're going to have to find some others to step up and fill that role,” said Arnston.

Arnston says the workers will have to leave the country in the next 18 months.