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Nebraska business leaders have identified a critical need for more immigrants to meet the state's current workforce demands, according to a report by the Economic Leadership group, commissioned by the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The North Carolina-based consulting firm assessed Nebraska's economic competitiveness and produced three reports, which collectively pointed to immigration as a primary solution to address the state's workforce challenges.

The COVID-19 pandemic and demographic shifts, including an aging population and declining fertility rates, have worsened workforce gaps. Nebraska's unemployment-to-job-opening ratio is particularly low, highlighting the severity of the issue.

The studies, based on focus groups and interviews, revealed that Nebraska residents see the current federal immigration system as broken and the topic as toxic and confusing. Participants emphasized the need to improve legal immigration pathways while addressing illegal immigration concerns.

Chamber president Bryan Slone expressed support for the report's direction but didn't disclose the Chamber's stance on politically sensitive issues. Initially, the Chamber may advocate for simplifying and improving access to work visas, such as H1-B, H2-A, and H2-B, which cater to a range of job categories from professionals to agricultural workers.

Additionally, the Chamber is likely to support initiatives for Dreamers, young immigrants under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Up to 3,000 DACA recipients reside in Nebraska, but their migratory status is perpetually uncertain as they must reapply every two years.

The study also included a series of recommendations, including launching an immigrant recruitment strategy, creating a state welcoming advisory board, and advocating for federal immigration reform. The aim would be to make Nebraska a more attractive destination for immigrants, offering services to non-English speakers and pushing for more work visas and pathways to citizenship.

While other states have grown their workforces through internal migration, Nebraska has seen a net loss of taxpayers over the last decade. The state's foreign-born population, though small at 7% (about 140,000 people) has significantly contributed to recent growth. Nebraska ranked eighth among states with rapidly growing foreign-born populations from 2012 to 2022, but fell to 29th from 2020 to 2022.

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