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Survey Shows Concerns Over Foreign Workers Calling N.C. Home

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DURHAM — A recent survey indicates that we may be willing to help people from other countries, but we're not too comfortable when they decide to move here. Part of the hesitation is the competition for jobs.

Thousands of people from all over the world move to our area each year. In 1996, 131,000 people got temporary work visas, and another 7,000 became lawful permanent residents.

Employers will tell you, they need non-American workers for jobs that are hard to fill. But a new poll suggests North Carolinians have concerns about foreigners who want to stay here for good.

Our thriving area has become more and more dependent upon foreign workers. Thousands of them are in our fields, and many others have high-tech jobs in Research Triangle Park.

The demand for high-skilled foreign workers has increased so much that Washington is working on a bill to increase the number of visas they allow each year.

"There are labor shortages that our companies cannot address with the recent graduates from Duke and NCCU and UNC and N.C State," according to Patrick Byker,Durham Chamber of Commercevice president. "And therefore, companies will look all around the world to meet their labor needs."

But even though our economy depends on foreign workers, we're still having trouble accepting the ones that make North Carolina their permanent home.

According to a new WRAL-TV, Your Voice, Your Vote poll:
  • 31 percent of the people in North Carolina are very worried about foreign immigration into our state
  • 26 percent say they are somewhat worried
  • 11 percent are a little worried
  • The people we talked with Monday are among the minority who say they aren't concerned.

    "I'm not too sure what they're worried about," says Raleigh resident Steve Tomeo. " I mean, there is a concern about it, but as far as taking over our country so to speak, we all come from all parts of the world, all walks of life."

    "I've been in Mexico, and I've seen some of the poor folks there, and I understand why they want to come here," Raleigh resident Phil Henry said.

    In fact, the bill to allow more visas for high-skilled employees has been in the works for quite a while now. One of the few things holding it up is that the Clinton Administration has been reluctant to sign off on it because of union fears that it would cost jobs.