Order directs Administration to develop a plan to create an Office with the overarching goal of effectively incorporating immigrants into our workforce and communities to strengthen the economy
Governor Janet Mills today signed an Executive Order directing her Administration to develop a plan to establish an Office of New Americans in Maine State government.
The Executive Order directs the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future (GOPIF) to work with stakeholders – including other State agencies, municipalities, schools and colleges, employers, community-based organizations, and the immigrant, refugee, and asylum-seeking communities – to create a plan for the establishment of the new office to be delivered to the Governor by January 19, 2024.
The plan will outline the mission and structure of the office, the timing of its establishment, and the scope of its work, with the overarching goal of ensuring that Maine is effectively incorporating immigrants into its workforce and communities to strengthen the economy over the long-term.
With unemployment at record lows, and economic growth among the best in the nation, Maine faces a shortage of workers across regions, professions, and skill levels, especially in critical sectors such as health care, education, and construction. New Mainers are important to addressing this shortage of workers, and attracting new workers is a priority for Maine’s economic future, with the State’s 10-year Economic Strategy setting a target of attracting 75,000 new workers by 2029.
“For generations, immigrants have brought their skills, education, and ability to Maine to build a better life for themselves and their families, contribute to the vitality of our communities, and become the workforce that our employers in Maine desperately need. This is as true today as it was a century ago,” said Governor Mills. “My order will develop a plan for a new office to help us ensure that Maine is fully drawing on the talents and skills of those who want to live and work in and contribute to our great state. This is a critical step for Maine’s economic future as we address our workforce shortage and support our communities and businesses.”
“We look forward to hearing from Maine’s immigrant communities, businesses, municipalities, and key state and community leaders as we develop the plan for this office in the coming months,” said Hannah Pingree, Director of the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future. “As we face critical workforce shortages, we believe there is tremendous opportunity in creating an office that will help our state effectively incorporate immigrants into our workforce and our communities.”
“The Portland Regional Chamber has made integrating New Americans into our workforce and communities a cornerstone of all the work we do. That is why we are thrilled by the Governor’s announcement of the Office of New Americans within the Maine State government,” said Quincy Hentzel, President & CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce. “The state’s economic development plan makes clear we need to aggressively expand our workforce by 2030, and there’s no better way to do that than by harnessing the skills, experience, and education of foreign-born professionals. While recognizing the importance of broader federal initiatives to address this issue, we extend our deepest gratitude to the Governor for spearheading this transformative effort to position Maine as a welcoming state to live, work, and grow.”
“The founding of the Office of New Americans is an important next step in expanding the pathways to success for the many people born abroad who today call Maine home. Immigrants are strong leaders in business and contribute greatly to our communities and economy in Maine, and the need for in-migration and immigration to contribute to our workforce and economy has never been greater,” said Shanna Cox, President and CEO of the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. “This new office will be a catalyst for improved engagement and greater success of our neighbors, customers, employees and business owners.”
“Welcoming and integrating New Americans into our communities helps create new economies, new industries, and a steady stream of ideas, innovations, and businesses. Our diversity has proven over and over for nearly three centuries that our people are and have been our greatest asset,” said Tae Chong, Director of Multicultural Markets and Strategies for the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. “I am excited to support Governor Mills’ vision to create an office of New Americans to help Maine grow its economy and its communities.”
“As an agency that has been resettling refugees and immigrants in Maine for 40 plus years, Catholic Charities Maine looks forward to working with the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future in developing an office of New Americans in Maine,” said Steven P. Letourneau, CEO of Catholic Charities Maine. “Our recent experience partnering with the State and the City of Portland to provide on-site social services to asylum-seeking families in a pilot transitional housing program is a testament to the way that collaboration among government, municipalities, and communities can accelerate the successful integration of New Americans into local communities and businesses.”
“The Mills Administration has improved the lives of Mainers across the state, and this new office represents the Governor’s continued hard work to achieve quality of life for all Maine people,” said Fatuma Hussein, Executive Director of the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine. “We know this new office will address the unique needs of the New Mainer communities by helping our state build its workforce through education and training. We're proud to see this inclusion and representation at the state level, and we look forward to working together toward creating a better Maine.”
“An Office of New Americans within State government would be a dream come true,” said Claude Rwaganje, Executive Director of Prosperity Maine. “We have advocated for the creation of such an office to help guide immigrants into Maine’s workforce, and are grateful to Governor Mills for taking this action today. We support this initiative and look forward to helping GOPIF create the strongest possible plan for the Governor’s review. Together we can achieve a lot.”
“I enthusiastically support the creation of a state-level office to address and coordinate Maine's response to workforce challenges and opportunities” said Kate Snyder, Mayor of the City of Portland. “The creation of this Office is fundamental to finding solutions that strengthen our City and State, and I thank Governor Mills for her action and continued advocacy for vital changes to federal policy.”
“We applaud the Governor’s Executive Order and support the creation of a new state-level Office of New Americans,” said Mufalo Chitam, Executive Director of Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition. “It has been impossible to keep up with new immigrant arrivals in Maine without one entity to coordinate the multiple agencies, organizations, and municipalities performing this work. Such an office can help address this need, and we look forward to assisting in the effort to develop a strong plan for its creation.”
The Governor’s Executive Order also directs GOPIF to participate in the Office of New Americans State Network, a consortium of U.S. states with dedicated offices or staff for coordinating immigrant integration. The Network is coordinated by a partnership of two organizations, World Education Services and the American Immigration Council.
Through the Network, the State will access expertise, experiences, and best practices from states across the country on developing policy approaches to support the successful economic, social, and civic integration of immigrants. In other states, Network offices are broadly charged with offering guidance and assistance to state agencies, with focus on economic areas such as workforce training, licensing, language access, and legal supports.
Maine will become the 19th state in the Network, following North Dakota and Utah in 2023; Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Illinois in 2022; and Colorado, Oregon, and Minnesota in 2021. Other Network states include Michigan, Ohio, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, California, Washington, Nevada, and Virginia.
“We are thrilled to see Governor Mills’ Executive Order to create a statewide Office of New Americans,” said Rich André, Director of State and Local Initiatives at the American Immigration Council. “Maine now joins a bipartisan group of 18 other states that participate in the Office of New Americans State Network to share best practices and deepen their investment in immigrant and refugee inclusion.”
“The growing Office of New Americans Network is so pleased to welcome Maine to join fellow member states across the U.S.,” said Katherine Gebremedhin, Director of State and Local Initiatives at World Education Services (WES). “WES applauds Governor Mills for her leadership in driving immigrant inclusion and welcomes Maine's participation in the national ONA network.”
Given Federal constraints in immigration law, particularly for individuals and families seeking asylum, the Mills Administration has worked in partnership with many municipalities, MaineHousing, local nonprofit and development organizations, the Legislature, and Maine’s Congressional Delegation to support Maine towns and cities as they transition immigrants into Maine’s communities and workforce.
These efforts have included supporting long-term safety and security for immigrants by funding frontline organizations, establishing temporary, transitional, and permanent housing, and supporting services provided by government and many non-governmental partners. A full list of recent Administration actions to date is available (PDF).
As plans for a new office on immigration move forward, the Administration will continue to engage with municipalities, housing experts, and community organizations to evaluate further housing options for all people in Maine who are experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity. The Administration is also reforming the State’s General Assistance program to ensure its long-term sustainability.
In addition to these actions, Governor Mills, in partnership with members of Maine’s Congressional Delegation, continues to call on the Federal government to expedite work authorization for individuals seeking asylum.
Earlier this year, the Governor signed into law a bipartisan bill, LD 1050, A Resolve, Directing the Department of Labor to Request a Federal Waiver to Allow Presumptive Work Eligibility for Asylum Seekers. The Governor also continues to strongly support the Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act of 2023, sponsored by Senators Collins and King and Representative Pingree, which would enable asylum seekers to receive work authorization on a much faster timetable. The U.S. Chamber of Congress has endorsed this legislation along with others to address challenges in the system.