Klobuchar highlights her bipartisan legislation to boost workforce in medically underserved areas


WASHINGTON - At a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety hearing yesterday titled, “Removing Barriers to Legal Migration to Strengthen our Communities and Economy,” Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) highlighted ways to strengthen America’s workforce and maintain its global economic edge.

Klobuchar emphasized how Minnesota’s diverse immigrant population, including the state’s Somali-Americans and Hmong-American communities, has helped Minnesota maintain one of the strongest state economies and lowest unemployment rates in the nation. She also pointed to how challenges such as the green card backlog have a detrimental effect on American companies’ ability to recruit and retain top talent. 

Klobuchar also underscored how her bipartisan Conrad State 30 and Physician Access Reauthorization Act will increase healthcare access in medically underserved areas by allowing foreign doctors obtaining their medical decrees in the U.S. to legally remain if they practice in medically unserved communities. 

“Foreign doctors who are from other countries, but they are getting their medical degrees in the U.S. and doing their residencies, are in a crazy situation where they have to go back to their home country. We’d love them to stay,” said Klobuchar.

The full transcript of Klobuchar’s remarks is given below, for TV download HERE, and for online viewing HERE

Senator Klobuchar: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, thanks for your great leadership here and all the senators. We have an all-star cast of people who have worked on this issue including the chair, Senator Tillis, and Senators Durbin, Hirono, and Blumenthal. I have cared a lot about this for a long time. I have cared a lot about it because my state is home to so many refugees and immigrants. We have the biggest population of Somlais, the biggest population of Liberians, the second biggest Hmong. And we also have workforce issues right now. So it is both where my heart is, but also where my head is. When it comes to our economy throughout our state, our unemployment rate in Minnesota is very, very low, way below the national average. And we have traditionally, because of bringing in immigrants, have been able to maintain one of the strongest economies in the country, which includes one of the highest per-capita of Fortune 500 companies. So I’ll start with you, Mr. Melmed, in your opening statement, you discussed how the U.S. is falling behind. I think about this all the time. When we have job openings, we can’t fill them with various skill levels of employees. I literally go into companies and I think about it because we talk about apprenticeships and workforce. And then I always say, and what’s the most immediate thing we can do to shake this up? It is immigration reform, it is visas, it is all different things to create pathways to citizenship. What do you think, what policies do you think have the most detrimental effect right now on the ability of American companies to attract and retain top talent?

Lynden Melmed: Well, Senator, I would start with maximizing the immigrants who are already here. And so we hear from our clients and companies that they have employees who are caught in a green card backlog. And that limits their progress, it limits the roles they can take on. As I mentioned just a few minutes ago, it limits their ability to go out and create new enterprises, and so the green card backlog and per country issues- those are already here. I’d start with that. The other issue you hear about, I suspect, is from companies who look to hire out of the U.S. universities- such a high percentage of graduates, particularly in STEM fields, are in computer- related occupations. But companies, today me right now they have the top candidate out of a U.S. university that they want to hire and sponsor for a work visa. The earliest that an individual could start would be not this October, but the following October. 

Senator Klobuchar: And I’ve found for smaller companies, it is harder to get in line to get these employees, because they may not have the structure to pursue the whole thing. Very good, thank you. I’m going to turn to a bill I’m working on right now for our Afghan refugees. We’re taking in a number of them in Minnesota, and this bill would provide a pathway to permanent legal status for Afghan refugees who were evacuated. I guess I’d ask you, Professor Legomsky, what should we be doing for these refugees and for others in order to, who are facing long waits and processing times, why is it important to change that?

Professor Stephen Legomsky: Thank you for that question. I think your solution is exactly the right one. We should be providing a  path to lawful permanent resident status. I think the situation of all refugees is compelling. In the case of the Afghan refugees, there are more reasons still. The big one, and the obvious one, is that these are folks who, at great risk to their own lives, have assisted American civilians and American military personnel in Afghanistan. With all the trauma they have already been through, we don’t need to superimpose the additional trauma of not knowing whether any moment they will be suddenly picked up and returned home. For their children, the situation is probably even more dire because they have less understanding of what is going on. For their older children, the awareness is even greater. So a path to permanent status, I think, is the best thing we can do at this point. 

Senator Klobuchar: And Mr. Melmed, one other thing I wanted to note. Thank you for that answer. Foreign doctors who are from other countries, but they are getting their medical degrees in the U.S. and doing their residencies, are in a crazy situation where they have to go back to their home country. We’d love them to stay. This is the Conrad 30 bill- I now have twenty other co-sponsors, bipartisan. It’s a bill that I have with Senators Collins, Rosen, and Ernst to try to continue that program and make it even stronger. It’s called the Conrad 30 because it was named after Kent Conrad, because North Dakota had so many problems in retaining, and Senator Cornyn, another all-star cast member of people who wants to get immigration reform done, knows, so that would be very important. Do you also think that we need to make the case, this is one of my big things, trying to make the case. I think businesses know it, but sometimes I think our citizens need to understand that connection with businesses. And Senator Cornyn, Coons, and Murkowski and I did a bill to require the Department of Labor to study the barriers that immigrants with advanced training face in finding employment. When you look at our needs right now, do you just want to comment on that, then I have to let my other colleagues take a shot here?

Lynden Melmed: Well, I would be remiss if I didn't comment on foreign physicians, as I am a child of a foreign physician who settled in Dallas, Texas. And I think, historically the United States has been effective at identifying ways where there are win-win opportunities. And so, bringing in foreign physicians to serve medically underserved areas has been done in the past. It’s an important tool at our disposal. And Congress should definitely continue to utilize that program.