An influx of immigrants over the last decade is the only reason Maine has grown at all in that time period. Yet the state is not getting all it could out of this talented group of new Mainers.

For one, immigrants new to the state are often doing jobs below their level of education and experience.

For a state economy struggling to fill many open positions, and looking at a shrinking workforce in the years to come, that’s like trying to drive with the parking brake on.

Maine needs to figure out why so many immigrants – about a quarter of them, according to the Maine Business Immigration Coalition – are underemployed, and what can be done to get them into jobs where they can really flourish.

A good step in that direction is now before the Legislature. L.D. 432, from Rep. Victoria Morales, D-South Portland, calls for a review of the barriers keeping Maine residents from getting occupational licenses for the jobs that require them.



Maine has dozens of fields that require licensing, everything from nursing and other aspects of health care to cosmetology, architecture, tree care and counseling – according to the Maine Heritage Policy Center, about 30 percent of Maine workers operate under a license of some kind.

But to get a license, you have to show you have the right kind of experience and training for the field – and that can be very difficult for someone whose education and work history occurred in another country.

It can be difficult for immigrants to get copies of diplomas, transcripts and credentials from their native country. If they can get them, they may not be understood or accepted by the relevant licensing board.

Those are just two of the biggest barriers keeping new Mainers from making the most of their lives here – and boosting the economy and state tax revenue while they’re at it.

It’s imperative Maine figures out what else is going on and work to change it; otherwise, Maine is just missing out on too much.



On the whole, Maine’s immigrants are well educated – they have higher rates of graduate degrees than the population in general, and were often professionals before coming here.

They’ll be the ones spurring growth here if it is to come at all. Maine is one of just two states where deaths outnumber births, and immigrants are the reason the state’s population has increased in recent years; 7,000 immigrants arrived in 2010-2015, a time when overall the number of people in Maine went up just 967.

What’s more, workforce growth throughout the country is expected to be largely driven by new immigrants and their children for the foreseeable future.

That’s not to say that Maine shouldn’t invest in its native-born population, or shouldn’t try to encourage Americans from other states to come here.

But that won’t be enough.

To thrive in the next half century – indeed, to grow at all – Maine needs to make sure that every resident and future resident has the tools to reach their potential. Allowing new Mainers to fully utilize their skills and education can only help achieve that goal.

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