Illinois' Economy Stands to Lose in Immigration Fight

Jan 31, 2019

Illinois' economy could become a casualty should negotiations fail in Washington on U.S. immigration policy.

While the state is 12th nationally for the size of its foreign-born population, new data from personal finance site WalletHub ranks Illinois 8th for the economic impact of immigrants.

As executive director of the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition, Rebecca Shi contends both high and low-skilled immigrants are crucial to the vitality of Illinois.

"Hospitals, tech companies, manufacturers depend on immigrants as doctors and physicians and programmers," she points out. "The Illinois Restaurant Association, Hotel and Lodging Association, they depend on immigrants as busboys, waiters/waitresses, cooks, hotel maids."

Illinois ranked 8th for the percent of jobs created by the presence of international students, ninth for jobs generated by immigrant-owned businesses and 11th for the percent of foreign-born STEM workers.

Shi maintains threats to immigration are having an impact on the workforce.

She explains that business owners in her coalition say they're having difficulty finding workers.

"They have positions that are unfilled that pay well above minimum wage and have full benefits," she points out. "But because of the tight labor market coupled with this expanded enforcement, they're not seeing the number of immigrants as before applying at both the high-skill and low-skill end."

There are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., including some 480,000 in Illinois.

Shi says lawmakers should come together and find a bipartisan solution to keep foreign-born workers in the country.

"Immigration reform that actually expands visas at the high and low-skill end as well as creating a path to citizenship for the 11 million will be economically important and morally right," she states.

Some of the major sticking points in the immigration debate are President Donald Trump's demands for border wall funding, as well as disagreements over the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.