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Utah immigrant task force proposes steps to better integrate ‘New Americans’

By Tim Vandenack - Standard-Examiner | Feb 6, 2023

Courtesy Governor's Office of Economic Opportunity

Natalie El-Deiry, director of immigration and New American integration for Utah.

SALT LAKE CITY — A group tasked with crafting a strategy to help better integrate immigrants into the fabric of Utah proposes increasing English-language study offerings and boosting efforts to naturalize those who are eligible for U.S. citizenship.

The New American Task Force, operating under the auspices of the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity, also calls on improved efforts to support immigrant entrepreneurs and more study into the barriers immigrants face in acceptance of the professional credentials they’ve earned abroad.

“The recommendations provide a road map for us to secure strategic investment through public-private partnerships and government leadership,” Natalie El-Deiry said in an email to the Standard-Examiner. She’s director of immigration and New American integration within the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity.

With a growing immigrant population in Utah, the stakes of the task force’s efforts are significant. Immigrants account for 8.4% of the state’s population, according to the task force, and immigrants are more likely to be between 25 and 54 years old, the prime working years, than their U.S.-born counterparts in Utah. What’s more, in 2019, immigrants accounted for 8.3% of entrepreneurs in the state.

In Provo, foreign-born people accounted for an estimated 11.3% of the population averaged over the 2017-2021 period, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

Ryan Collerd, Associated Press

New US citizens taking the Oath of Allegiance during their naturalization ceremony at the Robert N.C. Nix, Sr. Federal Building in Philadelphia on Oct. 19, 2022.

The New American Task Force recommendations are outlined in a report released Jan. 20  and represent the culmination of six months of work and meetings with a range of representatives from the public, private and nonprofit sectors. Those involved continue to seek feedback, El-Deiry said, but they’re also moving forward, trying to take concrete steps to address the recommendations.

“We are actively working on the naturalization, global talent and foreign credential efforts. This is a long-term strategy that we are just getting started on,” said El-Deiry. The task force also calls for a series of gatherings, networking events and more “to connect Utah companies with international students and graduates to fill critical talent gaps.”

Among El-Deiry’s functions are heading the Utah Immigration Assistance Center, created by the Utah Legislature in 2021 to aid individuals and business in navigating the state’s rules and regulations governing foreign labor. As such, she’s been intimately involved in efforts of the the New American Task Force, made up of immigrants, refugees and representatives from local and state government, the business sector and community organizations.

Here are more details of the task force’s recommendations:

English study: Available programming to learn English needs to be analyzed, particularly programming geared to adults to help them get into the workforce. “The group will identify public and private resources that can be used to support (English-language learners) and broader upskilling and workforce development efforts for New Americans in Utah,” reads the report.

Credentialing: The study calls for a survey of the state’s foreign-born population to gauge the barriers they face in acceptance of credentials they’ve earned outside the United States. “This survey would assess foreign-degree licensing, credentialing opportunities and specific sectors to customize support moving forward,” the report reads.

Naturalization: More than 50,000 immigrants in Utah are eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship, the study says, and more needs to be done to encourage them to do so. Among other things, it calls for more outreach efforts to encourage naturalization and funding from the state to bolster naturalization efforts outside the Wasatch Front.

“Naturalization is a win-win strategy with economic benefits that are well documented, including increasing annual household earnings, employment growth and homeownership,” reads the report.

Education: The immigrant community needs to be encouraged to pursue education, from childhood through college, through concerted messaging and outreach.

The study also proposes specific efforts to encourage post-secondary education.”Support community-driven efforts to reduce barriers to in-state tuition for immigrant visa holders,” it reads.

Through it all, El-Deiry cautions against inaction.

“The upshot of doing nothing is that we risk excluding a segment of our state’s population who contribute greatly to our state. There is a business imperative for creating strategies that include New Americans in our economy and community,” she said.


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