A group of Pennsylvania lawmakers recently proposed legislation to establish the Office of New Pennsylvanians, which aims to attract, retain, and embrace immigrants in Pennsylvania. As Pennsylvania continues to suffer lagging population growth, the proposal highlights the critical need to welcome immigrants and support their transition to the Commonwealth.
Population Growth Lagging in Pennsylvania
Despite being the fifth-largest state in the country, Pennsylvania has experienced slower population growth than much of the country. According to 2020 census data, Pennsylvania has achieved only 2.4% population growth since 2010, ranking 44th out of 50 states. Western states like Utah (18.4%), Idaho (17.3%), and Texas (15.9%) led all states in population growth during the same period.
Due to this lagging growth, Pennsylvania is set to lose a congressional seat in this year’s redistricting, for a decrease from 18 to 17 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The loss of a congressional seat could cost the Commonwealth political clout and will affect the amount of federal funding it receives, which is often based on population.
Despite Pennsylvania’s lagging population growth, its immigrants are becoming an increasingly important portion of its economy. According to the American Immigration Council, one in fourteen residents of Pennsylvania is an immigrant, while one in ten entrepreneurs is an immigrant. In fact, immigrants represent approximately 9% of the entire workforce in Pennsylvania. For this reason, lawmakers are exploring options to promote and retain immigrants and spur additional growth in Pennsylvania.
Proposed Legislation Creating the Office of New Pennsylvanians
On Feb. 9, 2022, members of the Welcoming PA Caucus of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives formally unveiled House Bill 2173, which proposes the creation of the Office of New Pennsylvanians. The bill, sponsored by Reps. Sara Innamorato (D-Allegheny) and Joe Hohenstein (D-Phila.), will be responsible for attracting, retaining, and embracing immigrants who live in Pennsylvania. Speaking of the bill, Rep. Innamorato noted, “immigrants move to our country for the promise of freedom and more opportunity. But recent census data shows Pennsylvania is lagging in population growth. So, it’s more important than ever to enact policies that welcome them to our beautiful Commonwealth.”
The proposed Office of New Pennsylvanians will operate within the Department of Community and Economic Development (“DCED”). Additionally, the proposed legislation will develop an advisory committee consisting of appointed public and private officials who will make recommendations to the governor on policies, procedures, regulations, and legislation to attract, retain, and integrate immigrants.
If created, the Office of New Pennsylvanians will respond to immigration-related issues and inquiries, coordinate with state agencies regarding immigration-related policy, and work with stakeholders (including higher education facilities, municipal officials, and business leaders) to develop strategies to attract and retain immigrants in the Commonwealth.
Rep. Hohenstein stressed that “it is incumbent upon each of us to ensure that people who emigrate from their home country to Pennsylvania will find a new welcoming, supportive home here. Codifying the support we provide to immigrants would establish that we see our responsibility to our immigrant neighbors as a priority and would benefit all Pennsylvanians.”
The bill was introduced on Dec. 16, 2021, and has been referred to the Committee on State Government. Sponsored and co-sponsored by Democrats, it must overcome a Republican majority in Harrisburg before being enacted into law.