For this month’s thought leader piece, Kevin Abel reflects on continuing to be an advocate for Georgia’s refugees and immigrants. Kevin Abel was a founding member of New American Pathway’s Board of Directors, serving as Vice Chair of the Board as well as chairing and serving on both the Advancement and Civic Engagement committees. He is actively engaged in spearheading the Business and Immigrants for Georgia (BIG) taskforce, a joint venture of New American Pathways and the Coalition of Refugee Services Agencies (CRSA) to advocate against anti-immigration legislation in Georgia and for legislation to expand business and workforce development opportunities for new Americans across the state.
I have been privileged to be part of the creation of CRSA’s BIG Partnership. BIG (“Business and Immigration for Georgia”) is a statewide partnership of Georgia business and civic leaders committed to strengthening Georgia’s economy by tapping the potential of the state’s global communities.
During the 2021 legislative session, under the leadership of BIG Partnership chair Darlene Lynch, we successfully advocated for the passage of HR 11 that created the Global Talent Study Committee. In the words of the Study Committee Rep. Wes Cantrell, the committee’s goal was “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 to be successful in our state.”
In December, 2021, the committee released its final report. The committee’s recommendations were as follows:
1. Remove Barriers to Admission at Georgia Public Colleges
2. Invest in English Language Learning.
3. Streamline Requirements for Experienced Professionals
4. Support Child Care Entrepreneurs and Expand Access to Child Care
5. Incentivize Entrepreneurship Programs
I have been involved in the refugee resettlement and services community for most of the last decade. To the frustration of many in this field, most of our efforts at the State Capitol have been to thwart legislation unfriendly to those we serve.
The advent of this study committee, however, and the recommendations of its report have led me to believe that the tide has finally turned. Members of both parties recognize that what’s good for immigrants and refugees is good for Georgia and that is past time for us to be crafting policies that enable the common good.
One positive example that has already materialized is House Bill 932 that calls for refugees, special immigrant visa holders, and those rushed out of Afghanistan with parole status to qualify for in-state tuition at Georgia colleges and universities without having to wait for one year of residency. This policy was not ever called out as one of the study committee recommendations, yet the momentum of goodwill and bipartisan recognition of the positive outcomes brought about this encouraging step forward.
Longer term, I am really excited about the third stated recommendation of the study committee: “Streamline requirements for experienced professionals”. The Committee recommended facilitating the re-entry of experienced professionals into their fields in Georgia by helping them navigate the licensing system, including by developing online licensing guides and funding a full-time employee to assist incoming professionals and coordinate global talent development policies.
Many of us involved believe that the Secretary of State should create an Office for Global Georgia. The Office of Global Georgia can begin modestly with just this one newly funded employee working to help immigrant professionals navigate the licensing process. Beyond this, however, lies the opportunity to really tap into the potential of the rich talent that arrives in our state each year by updating our needlessly complex and arcane licensing processes and requirements.
Other states have had tremendous success with similar approaches. Our Office for Global Georgia will become not only an administrative facility doing the business of government, but a shining tribute to the belief of Georgia’s bipartisan leaders, business associations and immigrant advocates: When we set aside our political biases and preconceptions, we can find ways to serve our people for the benefit of all.