Welcoming Week: Celebrating Everything New Americans Bring to Minnesota
Abdiwahab Mohamed, Interim Assistant Commissioner, Immigrant & Refugee Affairs
September 16, 2022
DEED is proud to participate in Welcoming Week September 9-18, a national initiative to bring together neighbors of all backgrounds to build strong connections and affirm the importance of welcoming and inclusive places in achieving collective prosperity. I believe we all need to be intentional in creating inclusivity in our communities – and welcoming New Americans is an important way to do this. As an agency, DEED focuses on workforce and economic development, and we witness firsthand the positive impact of immigrants and refugees on our state's economy and communities. As a New American myself, I am proud to call Minnesota home.
Helping the State of Minnesota make connections and create pathways for New American workers and business owners to be successful is a central part of my role as Interim Assistant Commissioner for Immigrant and Refugee Affairs. My predecessor in this role, Anisa Hajimumin, did trailblazing work in identifying and breaking down barriers that immigrant and refugee business owners face in Minnesota. She also worked to connect immigrant and refugee workers with Minnesota employers. I will continue this important work.
Service to underserved communities has been a big part of my life. Fresh out of high school, I volunteered as an immigration interpreter. After moving to Minnesota, I continued working to support underserved communities. I have been fortunate to serve the immigrant and refugee community in different capacities within DEED, in both workforce and economic development. I worked with cities and counties to help facilitate successful operation of workforce development and other grants. I also trained and supported community businesses to expand and export overseas. Service is what drives me to do my work every day. I have had the honor of serving immigrant and refugee communities through leadership and advocacy – acknowledging that there is always more work to do.
In the last ten years 105,000 New Americans have made a new home in Minnesota and 81,400 foreign born people joined Minnesota’s workforce in that same timeframe. In fact, half of our recent labor force growth has been driven by immigrants, and this will certainly continue to be the case, with immigrants displaying a much younger age profile than the native-born population, which is aging rapidly and exhibiting lower labor force participation rates as retirements pick up. About 61.5% of the foreign-born population are in the prime working years of 25-54, compared to just 38% of the rest of the population.
Immigrants and refugees make up a large percentage of the labor force in many in-demand and critically important occupations in Minnesota. For example, foreign born workers make up nearly 40% of butchers and meat packers, just over 30% of software developers and computer application and system engineers and just over 18% of Personal Care Aides, according to recent Census data. Our CareerForce system, with counselors and support staff available to assist people in finding jobs, is developing new ways to serve immigrants and refugees who seek employment, from entry level jobs to professional positions. One way DEED is doing this is through the Internationally Trained Professionals grants to organizations that are helping health care workers trained in another country earn the professional licenses required to do similar work in Minnesota. Another example of CareerForce outreach to New Americans is the hiring of a workforce development representative from the Afghan community to assist with making connections with Afghan evacuees who recently arrived in our state.
New Americans also drive a considerable amount of small business creation and growth in Minnesota. In 2018, 20,219 immigrant business owners accounted for 7% of all self-employed Minnesota residents – and in the Twin Cities metro, 11% of all business owners were immigrants. This entrepreneurial spirit benefits us all by revitalizing communities, creating new cultural experiences and more. At DEED, a significant portion of funding to help businesses weather the pandemic and revitalize communities as we move through recovery has gone to businesses owned by immigrants and refugees.
Imagine what our labor shortage would be if we weren’t welcoming new Americans to Minnesota. Imagine what kind of wealth and prosperity we could generate in our communities if we had stronger pipelines and pathways for integrating immigrants and refugees into our state’s economy and communities. We can build these connections, which will benefit all Minnesotans. I hope you will join me in celebrating Welcoming Week by recognizing the many contributions New Americans make in our great state – and by reaching out to create connections that will make Minnesota even stronger.