Hamse Warfa, deputy commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, is the highest ranking African immigrant official in Minnesota state government. Credit: Photo courtesy of Hamse Warfa

ST. PAUL — I have a personal perspective on the many contributions of foreign-born Minnesotans. Like many of the more than 70,000 of my fellow Minnesotans, I was born in Somalia. 

My parents were entrepreneurs and we lived a good life in Mogadishu until the civil war broke out when I was 10. The violence forced us to flee and we spent more than three years in refugee camps in Kenya before my family arrived in the United States.

Many Somali Minnesotans had to start over in their careers when they arrived here and they are working hard to make a good life in their new homeland. This hard work benefits our state in many ways.  


As the deputy commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development leading our state’s workforce system, I see the numbers that clearly show immigrants’ contributions. 

It is undeniable that without immigrants, many parts of Minnesota’s economy would suffer. 

A key area of immigrants’ contribution to Minnesota’s robust economy is providing a young population demographic that is active in our labor force when the percentage of U.S.-born Minnesotans of working age is in an unprecedented decline. 

Numbers show immigrant impact

From April 2010 to July 2018, 107,830 foreign-born people moved to Minnesota, according to data from the 2018 American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau. 

This was an increase of 28 percent in foreign-born residents during that time period – more than twice the national rate of increase of foreign-born residents during that same time frame. 

This increase is good news for Minnesota. Without it, Minnesota’s historically tight labor market (Minnesota’s unemployment rate was 3.2 percent in September 2019) would be even tighter. 

That’s because immigrants are far more likely to be of working age – and are slightly more likely to be in the labor force – than the general Minnesota population, also according to data from the 2018 American Community Survey.

More than 61 percent of Minnesota’s foreign-born population are in their prime working ages of 25 to 54, compared to just 36 percent of the general population; 72 percent of the foreign-born population aged 16 and over is actively working compared to just under 69 percent of the native born population. 

Minnesota is also the state with the highest labor force participation rate in the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 


Between 2010 and 2018, 80,000 foreign-born people joined the workforce in Minnesota, again from data from the 2018 American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s almost 60 percent of the state’s labor force growth between 2010 and 2018. 

Without immigrants taking on the work they have, some industries would struggle to continue in Minnesota. 

That’s because immigrants make up a large percentage of the labor force in many in-demand occupations in our state: nearly 40 percent of butchers and meat packers; more than 30 percent of software developers and computer application and system engineers; and more than 18 percent of personal care aides. 

Recognize immigrants’ essential contributions

It’s important to raise awareness about the essential contributions of immigrants to our workforce. 

It’s important to ensure that immigrants have opportunities to grow in their careers and develop the skills needed to succeed in the in-demand careers of today and tomorrow. 

It’s important to recognize that without immigrants, Minnesota companies and our overall state economy would suffer. 


At DEED we are working to reach people who may not be aware of our career exploration, career readiness and job search services available through DEED. 

It’s better for everyone when we connect workers with needed skills. This includes skills training as well as English language skills. 

It’s better for everyone when we help people prepare for occupations that are in-demand now – and slated to be in-demand into the future. 

It’s better for everyone when we connect Minnesota workers with the Minnesota employers who need them. 


At DEED, I am leading efforts to more effectively serve immigrants and underserved populations by improving our grant-making process. 

In addition, we are dedicated to making our in-person and online services more accessible for people who speak a language other than English. We’re working with communities throughout Minnesota who are striving to become more welcoming to new arrivals. 

All of these efforts are essential to foster a diverse, equitable and inclusive society that benefits all Minnesotans. 

Hamse Warfa is the highest Somali American official in the Biden Administration, serving as a senior advisor to the U.S. State Department.