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What does immigration look like in mid-Missouri?

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Earlier this month, a “Gang of Eight” bipartisan senators introduced an immigration bill that would grant low-skilled immigrant workers the opportunity to stay in the United States legally without a green card, among other reforms. Called “W-visas,” these visas would allow immigrants to fill positions that don’t require bachelor’s degrees for three years.

Another element of the bill is the proposed path to citizenship for currently undocumented immigrants. The path lasts 13 years and includes a few small fines paid in installments before a green card can be issued.

But what does this mean for Missouri?  Hosts Scott Pham and Ryan Famuliner broke the issue down in this week's episode of the CoMo Explained Podcast:

With immigrants comprising only 4 percent of the state’s population, ranking us in the middle for immigrant population size among other states. Missouri could be affected by these changes. Cambio Center director Domingo MartínezCastilla, Centro Latino de Salud founder Eduardo Crespi and immigration lawyer Helene Fehlig Tatum met on Intersection this week to discuss how the bill could impact Missouri.

Tatum said that as immigration laws stand today, the United States is losing out on immigrants who come to the country to go to school but must leave afterward because they’re not able to easily get green cards. Through the proposed reforms, an increased number of available H1-B visas for skilled workers would be available.

“Here we are training the most talented and intelligent people and telling them they have to leave,” she said.

Immigration reform would provide an economic boom to Columbia by attracting more students from around the world to the University of Missouri, she said.

“If we’re trying to attract people in the STEM fields, I think it would encourage people to apply to the university,” Tatum said. “I’ve already received calls from people at the University of Missouri asking, ‘What can this bill do for me?’”

When it comes to low-skilled workers, Castilla said the Midwest is in high demand. Immigration reform would attract much-needed help to the area.

“We need workers and we don’t have workers,” Castilla said. Because college-age people are moving elsewhere and the population is getting older “Missouri has lost over 100,000 working-age people.”

Crespi said that over the past 10 years, the immigrant population in Missouri has doubled. To help this influx of immigrants integrate, Centro Latino became certified to provide legal immigration services. Tatum helps those with complicated cases.

She said one of the most important issues related to immigration is the United States’ need for agricultural workers. The reform bill would grant visas to immigrant agricultural workers to fill the void.

Do you think immigrants should be granted temporary work visas for low-skilled jobs? Listen to KBIA’s CoMo Explained podcast to learn more about immigration in mid-Missouri.

Castilla, Crespi and Tatum spoke with KBIA on Intersection earlier this week. View the program and follow us on Twitter.

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