Gov. Janet Mills is asking the Legislature to create a new statewide office to collect data about asylum seekers and other immigrants settling in Maine, and help them enter the state’s workforce.

The Office of New Americans would be overseen by a 19-member advisory board that includes immigrants, employers and others. It would join a network of 18 similar offices in state capitals across the country that have seen set up to support new arrivals.

“It’s a great opportunity not only for immigrants in the state but all Mainers, because it’s about economic development and workforce initiatives,” said Rep. Deqa Dhalac, D-South Portland, who immigrated from Somalia and introduced the bill for Mills. “That will be something that we all benefit from.”

Rep. Deqa Dhalac, D-South Portland Staff photo by Ben McCanna

The proposal is backed by House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, and two Republican co-sponsors, including Sen. Rick Bennet, of Oxford. It’s the product of an executive order issued by Mills last August, directing her administration to begin working on a plan for the new office.

The bill, L.D. 2167, will be formally unveiled later this week and go before the State & Local Government Committee for a public hearing in the coming weeks.

The legislation does not include an estimated cost or specifics about staffing. If approved, Mills would appoint a director of the new office and that person would work with the director of Mills’ Office of Policy Innovation and the Future to develop a budget and staffing plan.


The office would collect and analyze data; seek pathways for immigrants to achieve professional accreditation and licenses; encourage businesses to hire, retain and promote eligible immigrant workers; support expanded legal services; and work with federal officials and municipalities, schools and community groups to support immigrants. It would issue biennial reports to the governor and lawmakers beginning Feb. 1, 2026.

The governor and presiding legislative officers would appoint the 19-member advisory board, which would include 10 members of the immigrant community and others representing large and small employers, schools and municipalities, among others.

Mufalo Chitam, executive director of the Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, said she’s encouraged by the proposal. The coalition, which includes more than 100 groups that help shelter and provide services to asylum seekers, called on the governor to establish such an office back in May of 2022.

“Collecting data and analyzing data about who we have in our state was the No. 1 priority for us,” said Chitam. “Without knowing who you have, how can you plan and budget for them?”

Chitam said the office will be a valuable resource for communities that lack experience with asylum seekers, like Sanford, which was taken by surprise when a group of asylum seekers showed up seeking shelter.

The Mills administration is expected to release a more detailed report on its plan later this week. Office of Policy Innovation and the Future spokesperson Anthony Ronzio said the plan was informed by 100 outreach meetings and discussions with more than 800 people in all 16 counties.


“This presents an opportunity for the State to consider approaches on how to streamline and centralize access to policy, language, legal, workforce and employer supports for new arrivals and communities; to bring forward innovative practices to empower economic integration; and to make policy decisions with more complete data about, and in partnership with, immigrant communities,” Ronzio said.

Like other communities across the United States, Maine has experienced an increase in the number of people seeking asylum in the United States. Asylum seekers are prohibited under federal law from working until at least six months after filing their asylum applications, which can take a year or more to assemble and file.

Advocates say that many asylum seekers want to work as soon as they get here rather than rely on public assistance, and lawmakers and businesses have been advocating for that to happen. Asylum seekers and other immigrants are being increasingly viewed as a solution to the state’s workforce shortages and its so-called demographic winter, where deaths routinely exceed births.

Mills’ executive order noted that Maine is projected to need an additional 75,000 workers by 2029 and that New Mainers are important to reach that target.

Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, have sponsored bills to change federal laws to shorten the waiting period from six months to 30 days. Those efforts are being pitched as a way to help immigrants become self-sufficient sooner and reduce the financial pressure on municipalities.

And state lawmakers last year made an unorthodox request to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to grant Maine a waiver that would allow asylum seekers to work sooner. A spokesperson from the Maine Department of Labor, which sent the letter in October, said the state has not yet received a response from the federal government, other than a confirmation that the letter was received.

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.