Each graduate-level STEM worker employed creates an additional 2.6 jobs, yet “the United States turns away half of all foreign born Ph.D.’s coming out of U.S. institutions,” says Matt Oppenheimer, CEO of Remitly, a Seattle startup that offers a cheaper way for foreign workers to send money back to their families.
With each generation of immigrants leaving the agricultural workforce in search of year-round jobs that don’t require travel and outside work, Washington’s farmers also depend heavily on new immigrants, says Michael Gempler, executive director of the Washington Growers League, a Yakima organization that represents Washington farmers. A reduced workforce, he says, is causing more agricultural production to move offshore.
A 20 percent reduction in the number of new field and crop workers immigrating to the United State between 2002 and 2014 resulted in $3.1 billion less production of labor-intensive crops like fruits, vegetables and tree nuts, according to the Partnership for a New American Economy report. That production, the group says, would have led to an additional $2.8 billion in spending and created an additional 41,000 jobs.
Locally, says Gempler, lower agricultural production threatens to reduce not only the acreage of fields planted but also investment in factories to process that food. Particularly hurt, he says, are small farmers who don’t have the resources to navigate the complex and costly process for getting workers into the country legally.