September 1, 2011

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Utah Business Staff

September 1, 2011

So it’s a double edged sword because they are contributing to the economies of a lot of these cities and states, yet there is this negative inference that they are all bad people and we need to get rid of them because our workers need to work.

I’m proud of what we have done here in Utah, and I’m scared. Maybe we’ve taken some heat. But I’m a little afraid of what would happen if we repealed that bill, how other states and governments will look at us, as we had the compassion to try to do something the right way and be in the forefront, and then we backed down from it.

WHALEN: The more difficult question is, what about the undocumented men and women and children who are already here? It is a complex issue that is not best addressed by ideological extremes. I also fear that we have a bit of that going on here in Utah. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail because we need a business friendly solution that includes a dose of reality and compassion.

By a dose of reality, I mean we rely on and depend upon foreign workers to fuel our economy here in Utah. And when we look at the families that envelope those workers that we rely upon, they are oftentimes our best neighbors, our brightest students, our hardest workers. They are the type of men and women who we want to maintain and keep in Utah, and this rabid push to punish them and send them back for a mistake that was made decades ago will ultimately end up hurting the Utah business community. So there needs to be a solution that takes into account some reality and compassion, and that does not end up putting us back a few decades in terms of our strong economy.

The other thing that concerns me about the immigration rhetoric is that once again employers are the target of the enforcement and the compliance efforts, and it is getting very scary and problematic for employers as they try to comply with ever increasingly complex laws, commit administrative resources to complying with E-Verify, and face the potential of some very serious fines if they make an innocent mistake.

MEILING: The solution has to be simple. Right now, it is so complex. On our agricultural side, we’ve been fortunate with our employees whom we’ve rehired on a seasonal basis, for some of them as long as 20 years. I think they’ve been doing E-Verify for three years.

On our scientific side, I’ve had a couple of employees we’ve sponsored and the process is so cumbersome. There’s been a couple of them we’ve done for a whole year. The attorneys didn’t file something correctly and we started all over again. I have employees that it’s taken two or more years to sponsor. They’ve lived in this country for 25 years, they’ve worked for us for 10. How complex does it need to be? It’s ridiculous. It’s incredibly expensive, and it’s like every barrier is put up to make it not happen.

WHALEN: There is a misperception out there that undocumented workers broke the law just because they were lazy and didn’t want to go through the proper channels. The reality is that the process to enter the country and get an immigrant visa and become a permanent resident is very, very expensive and very, very long. And for a vast majority of workers, it is impossible and there is no way that they can come to the United States and work legally under our current system.

TSAI: A lot of that anti immigrant sentiment has even filtered over to higher skilled workers. This could be a guy who is an international student at the U, has a Ph.D., is trying to get a green card, is from India or China. The waiting list for a green card for those individuals with a master’s degree or above is about five years, which is pretty ridiculous. There are ways to keep them here in the interim, but that is a long process for them. And Utah desperately needs both the lower end workers and also the high end workers with technical expertise—the engineers, the executive level managers, the environmental engineers, healthcare workers—and a lot of those areas are filled by immigrants from around the world because that is where the talent is.

What’s happening with hiring in Utah? Is it going up or down? Do we have more employees than we need?
JONES: We’ve seen with our clients a significant uptick in hiring just since the first of the year. It hasn’t been huge, but just across the board, all of them seem to be hiring more.

WHALEN: As far as unemployment, Utah is holding steady at lagging the national employment figures by around 2 percent. I hear a mixed bag in terms of hiring. Many industries and companies are hiring perhaps a little more cautiously. Some companies report that they are not hiring, but the business climate and the efforts that Utah is putting into attracting business are very strong, and we are doing much better than many other parts of the country in those regards.

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