A group of Iowa businesses is urging the federal government to change immigration policy in order the address the state's workforce needs.
40 business and education leaders have signed onto the "Iowa Compact on Immigration," which is urging Congress to pass immigration reforms that will allow Iowa to expand its economy.
Iowa has the lowest rate in the nation but still faces a workforce shortage, which is why the coalition says it's time for action.
“It is time to modernize our outdated immigration system to make it truly responsive to today’s economy,” said Jay Byers, CEO of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, at a capitol news conference Monday. He suggested changes to the work visa program and making it easier for undocumented immigrants to become citizens.
Byers noted the number of international immigrants in central Iowa has grown twice the rate of the national average, which has helped with economic growth in the region.
“We’re a nation of immigrants. We’re a state of immigrants. We’re a region of immigrants,” Byers said. “It’s been a driver in our past and it needs to be a driver in our future.”
Byers stressed that it's incumbent upon the federal government to take action and they should do so in a bipartisan way. This comes on the heels of a Senate hearing last week on a proposal that would require Iowa businesses to use the E-Verify program to confirm the work status of potential employees. Business groups testified against the bill at that meeting, which was echoed by the coalition at Monday's news conference.
“Immigration policy should be decided at the federal level,” Byers said. “We do not need a patchwork of state laws, whether that’s E-Verify or other issues.”
There are currently 161,688 immigrants who pay about $892 million in taxes in Iowa, according to data from the New American Economy, a bipartisan research and advocacy organization that looks at immigration policies nationwide.