Research from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development says an increased immigration level could help the state. Credit: Sahan Journal

ST. PAUL — The state is hiring its first-ever assistant commissioner for immigrant and refugee affairs, a position that will focus on economic development for Minnesota’s newest Americans.

The position, which will be housed in the state Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), will work to identify and eliminate structural barriers keeping immigrants and refugees from joining the workforce and starting businesses, officials said as they announced the new assistant commissioner post.

This position is especially important considering Minnesota’s workforce shortage of 145,000 vacant positions across all industries, said DEED Deputy Commissioner Hamse Warfa.

One person is available for every two jobs open, Hamse said, but immigrants and refugees face roadblocks for filling these positions.

At the same time, immigrants and refugees are the fastest-growing segment of Minnesota’s workforce. DEED estimates the number of immigrant workers in the state rose by 80,000 between 2010 and 2018 while the number of U.S- born workers increased by 57,000.

“Welcoming, protecting and supporting immigrant and refugee communities are an essential priority” of the Walz administration, Hamse said. “And we see there’s a critical need to meet the needs of job seekers and employers.”

The new position comes after DEED officials spent the past year listening to employer concerns about worker shortages, as well as concerns from immigrant and refugee communities about the hurdles they face to getting hired.

Language barriers between employers and employees came up as a specific problem, Hamse said. Some business owners expressed interest in providing language services, and the new assistant commissioner could help navigate solutions.

The new assistant commissioner may also be able to help skilled immigrants trained in other countries obtain proper credentialing here, Hamse said.

That leader will coordinate the job’s mission across state agencies like transportation, health and education — the first state government position to do so on immigration matters.

The new role reports directly to Hamse, and whoever fills it will have their work cut out for them.

“We’re looking for someone who understands the enormous contributions of immigrants in our state,” Hamse said. “Someone who has authentic relationships with diverse stakeholders.”

The job opening, which is being funded by philanthropic donations, will remain open until March 11. It will pay between $99,000 and $142,000. Hamse said he’s expecting to fill it by April.

Joey Peters is a reporter for Sahan Journal. He has been a journalist for 15 years. Before joining Sahan Journal, he worked for close to a decade in New Mexico, where his reporting prompted the resignation...