New Pittsburgh Program Aims to Increase Local Immigrant Population

This past year was an especially contentious one in the world of U.S. immigration. While President Obama’s announcement of sweeping reform in November was a victory for millions of immigrants pursuing the American dream, there were also national headlines about border security and rigid new state laws that exposed deep-rooted fears surrounding the immigrant community. One city, however, seems to be wholeheartedly embracing immigration reform as a fundamental tool to reinvigorate its economy. While the Rust Belt may not, at first glance, seem like an area of the U.S. that would actively seek to attract foreign nationals, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a city in the heart of this primarily blue collar, post-industrial region straddling the Northeastern states, is trying to do just that. In fact, a newly implemented program in Pittsburgh highlights just how integral skilled and educated immigrants are to the American economic landscape.

“Welcoming Pittsburgh” is a citywide initiative that commenced this past spring, and it aims to attract immigrants by resettling refugees in the Pittsburgh area. This is accomplished by working with local organizations to keep international students in the city, reviving its Sister Cities program, and supporting various local job growth. The program’s founders expect major economic benefits will result from boosting Pittsburgh’s percentage of foreign-born residents, which currently sits at a scant seven percent, well below average for a U.S. metropolitan area. Studies have confirmed that immigrants start businesses at a higher rate than native-born Americans, and can potentially raise home values as they move into local neighborhoods. This is especially beneficial to Rust Belt cities like Pittsburgh, which have experienced depopulation and economic decline since the middle of the 20th century due to the collapse of this country’s manufacturing industry. And while Pittsburgh has a relatively slow growing immigrant population, the ratio of high skilled, educated immigrants who do make their home there is the highest in the nation. [See Pittsburgh Tries To Attract Enterprising Immigrants And Refugees, by Irina Zhorov, NPR, 25.Dec.2014.]

Betty Cruz, head of Welcoming Pittsburgh, stated in a recent NPR interview that the goal of the program is “20,000 new residents over the next ten years, and a portion of that – if we’re doing it right – should be immigrants.” Struggling Rust Belt cities such as Pittsburgh, now more than ever, have a major incentive to break down cultural barriers and entice immigrants to live and work in the region. And, there is hope that Welcoming Pittsburgh will spread, as it is actually a part of a larger program. Welcoming America, which bills itself as a “…national, grassroots-driven collaborative that works to promote mutual respect and cooperation between foreign-born and U.S.-born Americans.” While highly skilled and educated immigrants can offer a dramatic economic boost not seen in decades, they must feel as though they are understood and accepted in an area not traditionally welcoming to those born outside the United States. Programs such as Welcoming Pittsburgh are a promising effort to recognize immigrants as a fundamental part of the American landscape as we enter a new and exciting era of immigration reform. [See Welcoming America.]


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