Published April 7, 2023

House Votes for Legal Immigration Office 

Written by
Lydia Hoverson
| The Dakotan
Rep. Zachary Ista, D-Dis. 43, Grand Forks. (Photo: submitted)
Rep. Zachary Ista, D-Dis. 43, Grand Forks. (Photo: submitted)

A Strategy in Helping Workforce Shortages 


BISMARCK – The North Dakota State House has passed a bill that would create an office of legal immigration, which lawmakers say is one way to help the workforce and retention crisis. 

Senate Bill 2142 would appropriate $485,000 to the Department of Commerce to create an office of legal immigration with two full-time employees. The office would develop statewide strategies in supporting businesses in recruiting and retaining foreign labor, make recommendations to the governor and legislative assembly regarding immigration integration, and more. 

The House Appropriations Committee gave the bill a 20-3 Do Pass recommendation. The House Finance and Taxation Committee gave the bill an 11-1 Do Pass recommendation. 

“This bill particularly targets, as one part of the solution, recruiting international workers to North Dakota to help fill vacant positions across many industries,” said Rep. Zachary Ista, D-Dis. 43, Grand Forks. “With healthcare, energy, and agriculture being particularly strong opportunities. We are only talking about those persons already lawfully in the country or who would come here lawfully and have and retain legal authorization to work in the United States.” 

Ista said the committee heard much testimony in support from businesses across the state, including groups representing hospitals, nurses, and long-term care providers. 

“The message across these groups was clear -- they need help,” said Ista. “Attracting workforce, and in particular they need help in attracting foreign labor to help fill these vacant, critical positions. The legal immigration process is lengthy and costly. It can cost up to $50,000 to recruit just one foreign worker to North Dakota. It can take an average of 52 weeks to navigate the complexities. Not all businesses can bear these costs alone.” 

“I’m not opposed to this idea, but I have constituents who are opposed to the people paying taxes for it when it’s actually the businesses that make the gains,” said Rep. Mike Schatz, R-Dis. 39, New England. “This could affect North Dakota citizens who are looking for high paying jobs or for people who are wanting a raise. Why isn’t this done with a premium like workforce safety and other institutions? How about it being a division of job service and not make a whole department? I’m going to vote no.” 

The bill passed by a vote of 64 to 28> If both chambers agree on amendments it will be sent to the governor for consideration. 

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