Originally printed in the Portland Press Herald
Recently it was announced that Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King are working together to shorten the time period for asylum seekers to obtain work authorization. If passed, the Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act of 2023 would shorten the time significantly from a process that can take years to just 30 days.
Considering the challenges Maine’s aging workforce demographics poses for the forest industry and others, the Maine Forest Products Council applauds Collins and King for their support of this bill.
In Maine, the forest products industry is an $8.1 billion industry that sustains about 33,000 jobs (that’s one out of every 24 jobs). As our industry has evolved, the demand for workers has remained higher than our aging workforce can support. According to one study, the forest products industry will need about 5,000 additional workers by 2030. The future of our industry is bright. Paper products are in high demand as consumers prioritize products that are renewable, climate friendly and recyclable, and new companies are investing in Maine as the industry transitions to meet future needs. But our success will depend on our ability to find enough workers to fill these jobs.
Allowing legal asylum seekers to enter the workforce more quickly could be an important part of the demographic solution for our industry and others. Maine’s forest products industry has an abundance of good-paying jobs, and as they transition into our communities, asylum seekers should be permitted to find meaningful work. This bill is a win-win-win for employers, communities and new Mainers.
deputy director, Maine Forest Products Council