The House Study Committee on Innovative Ways to Maximize Global Talent listening to panelists during Thursday’s meeting. (Jeremy Kariuki/FreshTakeGeorgia)

CLARKSTON, Ga. — Legal immigrants to Georgia face too many barriers in too many areas when they try to integrate themselves in the local economy, Georgia lawmakers were told at a hearing Thursday.

Representatives of various immigrant and refugee organizations spoke to the Georgia House Study Committee on Innovative Ways to Maximize Global Talent about a statewide labor shortage and the need to increase career opportunities for Georgia residents born outside of the United States.

“In Georgia, we’re looking at barriers in three categories: education, employment, and entrepreneurship,” said Darlene Lynch, representing the Business & Immigration in Georgia Partnership.

These three categories were noted as the most common obstacles for foreign-born Georgians when seeking “the American dream,” as refugee Joyeuse Muhoza said during her testimony. Muhoza, who fled the Republic of Congo, worked in a poultry factory for a year before she qualified for in-state tuition. She now works as a nursing assistant at Emory Hospital.

Lynch and other witnesses discussed the impact that immigrant businesses have on the Georgia economy and job market. In 2019, foreign-born Georgians paid $10.8 billion in taxes in 2019, according to New American Economy, a bipartisan research and advocacy group that studies immigration policies and their effect on the economy.

Darlene Lynch, Business & Immigration in Georgia (BIG) Partnership, presenting at the House Study Committee Meeting on Thursday. (Jeremy Kariuki/FreshTakeGeorgia)

Ten percent of Georgians are foreign-born, the number of which steadily increased over the past 30 years, according to the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute

“Some of the things that we would like to see is in-state tuition, immediately upon arrival for refugees and Special Immigrant Visa -holders, in-state tuition for DACA recipients and simple changes to licensing,” Lynch said.

Special Immigrant Visas are granted to non-citizens who served in or with the U.S. military in Iraq or Afghanistan. Georgia has already admitted 64 Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Holders who were evacuated during the resurgence of the Taliban, according to Business Immigration and Georgia Partnership. However, Lynch noted that in Georgia, people who hold these visas are not allowed to become police officers in their communities, despite their permanent residency and related work experience.

Dr. Riad talking at a table to two other people in mask
Dr. Riad Sayegh, a Syrian refugee, speaking at the House Study Committee Meeting on Thursday. (Jeremy Kariuki/FreshTakeGeorgia)

“Republican and Democrat states around the country have passed legislation that has allowed DACA recipients and individuals, who were brought to this country through no fault of their own, to pay in-state tuition,” said Jaime Rangel, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient who spoke at the hearing.

One of the committee members, Rep. Angelika Kausche, a Democrat from Johns Creek, said, “What we’re hearing here, when you testify today, is how different the immigrant experience is.  We have to keep in mind, when we talk about refugees, those are people who are here on a legal status. We have to emphasize that you deserve as much support as any other person.”

The committee’s chairman, Rep. Wes Cantrell, a Republican from Woodstock, elaborated on the purpose of the meeting.

“The goal is to find out if there are things, artificial barriers, that we have created through government regulation or law that don’t give a foreign-born Georgian an equal opportunity in our state to be successful,” Cantrell said.

The committee’s next meeting is scheduled to be held at Dalton State University on September 9th.

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