Govs. Eric Holcomb (IN) and Spencer Cox (UT), two Republican leaders in decidedly Republican states, swear they’re not unicorns.

Still, they may be looking to work a little magic when it comes to growing the labor pool in the low-unemployment lands they oversee.

Late last month, the pair published an op-ed in the Washington Post, asking the federal government to send them more immigrants. Specifically, they are throwing their support behind a plan that would create a pathway for states to sponsor immigrants for work visas. 

That’s because healthcare and other workforce demands in Indiana and Utah require nothing less than an openness to new resources — and drawing workers from other labor-strapped states isn’t cutting it.

Over the last 15 years or so, conservative Republicans have grown increasingly opposed to increasing avenues for immigration, with protecting US borders seen as a major concern of many Republican voters.

But Holcomb and Cox are the latest to push back against the narrative that all immigration is bad immigration.

“As it is, the standstill on immigration hobbles both parties and, more seriously, endangers America’s long-term well-being,” they wrote. “The United States became prosperous because many immigrants saw our beacon and seized the freedoms and opportunities offered here. That formula has not changed.”

Holcomb and Cox understand that immigrants aren’t just coming with a hand out. Offered the right support, they can help their new communities flourish. Nowhere might that be more true than in long-term care communities. While Americans often view frontline caregiving roles as tough work for which they would be underpaid, many other cultures have a higher esteem for their elders. And that adds intrinsic value to caregiving careers.

And we already know we can’t find enough healthcare heroes locally or even regionally. Providers have been trying for nearly three years now to fill the holes left by mass departures during COVID’s early days. With coming demographic demands, experts across aging services sectors are sounding the warning alarm about what’s to come.

“Rapidly declining birthrates and accelerating retirements across the United States mean that our states’ already wide job gaps will grow to crisis proportions without more [workers and] families such as these — causing our growth engines to sputter,” the governors underscored in their op-ed. “Many of these jobs require high-level skills and entrepreneurship. But states are also awash in unfilled entry-level, low-skill roles — essential in agriculture, healthcare and the service industries.”

This is where Holcomb and Cox say they’re not unicorns, and they expect more Republicans to come along beside them to rally for immigration reform and innovation. Indeed, their comments are reflective of some made last month during the first 2023 hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee. There, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and others opined about roadblocks that are keeping many highly needed healthcare workers from emigrating to the US.

Holcomb and Cox say state-level immigration sponsorship would provide “a dynamic means to attract new residents, both from a pool of new applicants from abroad and from the ranks of current asylum seekers.” States could adjust their quotas annually, under a maximum set by Congress, and seek workers that match local economic needs.

It’s a measure that skilled nursing providers should consider discussing with their state and federal leaders. No, it’s not the typical way we’ve done immigration in this country, but the approach doesn’t cede total control to the states. And, conceivably, states that don’t want to tap these precious resources wouldn’t be forced to do so.

It shouldn’t take a belief in magical creatures to turn the approach into a well-thought-out policy with fair safeguards.

Kimberly Marselas is senior editor of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.

Opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News columns are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.