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Midwest Companies Look to Puerto Rico for Workers

Many companies in Ohio, Iowa, and Nebraska are having difficulty finding local employees. There’s also a shortage of legal immigrants to work under the H-2B visa program, allowing employers to hire temporary non-agricultural workers.

To fill out their workforce, some businesses are turning to the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, according to The Wall Street Journal.

It’s part of an increasing population shift to the U.S. from the Caribbean island, where jobs are more difficult to find. The unemployment rate there is 8.3%.

Puerto Ricans moving to the U.S. has picked up since 2017 after Hurricane Maria’s devastation, the Journal reported. About 200 companies, including placement agencies, are allowed to recruit workers for the U.S. Because they are U.S. citizens, residents of Puerto Rico can live and work in the U.S. mainland without restriction.

The number of Puerto Ricans on the island—now 3.2 million—was surpassed long ago by the number living in the United States. Puerto Ricans in the U.S. grew to 5.5 million from 5.4 million between 2016 and 2017, according to the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College. Since 2010, there’s been a total shift of more than 500,000 to the U.S.

The shift in Puerto Ricans to the U.S. comes at a time when immigration—including legal immigration—continues to be a hot-button political topic.

Farmers in California, for example, don’t have enough workers to pick their crops.

Overall government employment numbers show job openings at a record high, significantly driven by a lack of workers in construction, hospitality and food services, and health care, all areas that have heavily used unauthorized immigrants.

Immigrants have founded nearly half of the Fortune 100 companies and economists largely agree that immigrants, whether highly-skilled or not, improve and are necessary for the U.S. economy. Additionally, a majority of the public continues to think that immigrants strengthen the country, according to Pew Research.