State’s investments in immigrants pay off

Mass. needs new arrivals to keep economy moving forward

WHEN AIDA HABIBI and her family finally settled in the United States as refugees from Afghanistan last spring, they had concluded a difficult, six-year journey.  

Faced with threats from the Taliban and a lack of services for her brother, who has autism and Down syndrome, Aida, her mother, father, and three siblings fled Afghanistan in 2016 and temporarily settled in Turkey, where a lengthy processing period and the COVID-19 pandemic prevented them from moving to America until 2022.  

Aida and her family knew few people when they landed at Logan Airport and depended on the support of the International Institute of New England (IINE), one of the region’s providers of services to immigrants and refugees. IINE helped Aida’s family find housing, secure work, learn English, and adapt to life in America. IINE volunteers even drove Aida’s brother from the family’s home in Lowell to Boston so he could get the medical services he needed. 

While challenges undoubtedly remain, Aida and her family feel supported and are committed to building a life in Massachusetts. Aida is training to become a certified nursing assistant, her father works full-time in manufacturing, and her siblings are in school. Her brother is now receiving world-class care.  

Aida’s family couldn’t have become a success story without this early support, which demonstrates the value of investments by the state government that help arriving immigrants get a strong start in Massachusetts.   

Massachusetts has allocated meaningful resources to new arrivals in recent years. The state committed nearly $2 million to create the Immigrant Assistance Services program, a collaboration between the state’s shelters and immigrant services providers administered by the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition. The program is designed to help immigrants housed in emergency shelters gain the support they need to permanently exit the shelters and live independently. Additionally, in 2021 and 2022, the Massachusetts Legislature set aside $30 million to provide legal and other assistance to thousands of Haitians, Ukrainians, Afghans, and other groups arriving in the Commonwealth.   

Gov. Maura Healey’s recent emergency declaration will go even further in mobilizing the resources that are so desperately needed to help new arrivals begin building their lives in Massachusetts.  

Included in these funds is the Massachusetts Resettlement Support Program known as MRSP, a $10 million fund that is available to non-governmental agencies that contract with the federal government to support refugees and other displaced people coming to the Commonwealth. Known as resettlement agencies, these organizations have used these funds to provide emergency support to more than 5,000 migrants, refugees, and immigrants, including nearly 2,700 Haitians. The state funding has allowed the agencies to secure millions of dollars in federal benefits, lowering the burden on the state budget.  

In addition to allowing immigrant-serving organizations to respond to crises, state funding is an investment in our economic security and the future of the Commonwealth.  

With births on the decline, the population aging, and a growing number of residents moving to other parts of the country, Massachusetts needs immigrants to keep communities strong and the economy moving.  

The state currently has more than 100,000 job openings, a number that’s expected to grow 21 percent by 2030. Current projections show the Massachusetts workforce barely growing over the same time period.  

Immigrants already play a vital role in the state’s most important industries, from health care to tech to hospitality, and generate billions of dollars in revenue through the small businesses they start — money that goes to support other local shops and into the state’s coffers through the taxes they pay every year.   

There’s no denying that the current influx of immigrants has put a strain on state and local governments. But this short-term challenge should be viewed as a long-term opportunity to reverse alarming population trends and grow the next generation of entrepreneurs and job creators.   

To ensure new immigrants remain in Massachusetts, the state must continue the investments made in 2021 and 2022 that made it possible for many new arrivals to get work permits, learn English, and receive job training and placement, accelerating their integration into our communities.  

Meet the Author
Meet the Author
Aida and her family are able to build their lives and future in Massachusetts because they received support from the state and immigrant services providers shortly after landing here. Over time, they will give back as taxpayers, community members, and workers in industries desperate for labor. Investing in programs and services that help immigrants and refugees honors the Commonwealth’s humanitarian tradition and is critical to the state’s economic success. 

Elizabeth Sweet is the executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy  Coalition. Jeffrey Thielman is the president and CEO of the International Institute of New England.