Shortly after arriving in the United States in 1900, Giovanni Amato took a small cart down to the fishing docks of Portland and began selling freshly baked rolls filled with meats, cheeses and fresh vegetables to the locals. The sandwich business quickly outgrew Giovanni’s cart, so, in 1902, he and his wife founded the very first Amato’s restaurant on India Street in Portland, naming his signature sandwiches “Italians” as a tribute to his home country of Italy and its people. In 1972, Amato’s was purchased by another Italian immigrant, Dominic Reali, who went to work just two days after his arrival in America. Fast forward to today, and the signature sandwich and his restaurant, which later became a franchise under Dominic, now operates more than 44 locations across Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts.

This is a story that has played out across our state and country over many generations.

The way things are today, when immigrants legally come to our country to build a better life, they are sidelined for upward of a year or more waiting for authorization from our government to get a work permit. This delay forces legal immigrants to put their lives on hold, damaging the individuals’ psychology and fostering a culture of dependency.

As the founder of Moody’s, which is a majority employee-owned company, we promote the right way to redistribute wealth to our coworkers who helped build it. Having a great work ethic and a willingness to sacrifice are the great equalizers. With those values, regardless of your background, education or, in this case, origin, you have an opportunity to succeed in America like no other place in the world.

Fortunately, Sen. Susan Collins, who has that tireless work ethic, is on the job. She has authored, in collaboration with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., the Asylum Seeker Work Authorization Act of 2022. This bill, which has broad bipartisan support and is cosponsored by Sen. Angus King, shortens the waiting period for individuals who are here legally seeking asylum to be eligible for work permits considerably from 180 days to just 30 days upon arrival, giving these individuals the opportunity to assimilate through work and through our communities. This change will help new immigrants quickly become productive members of our society, ease our workforce shortage and dramatically reduce racial tensions that the current policy instigates.

OK, once they have their work permit in hand, now what? How do they find a job? We are launching an initiative called SOAR Maine (Skills and Occupational Assessment Rating). SOAR Maine is gearing up to help this population, along with Mainers who have been displaced from the workforce, match up with Maine employers based on skills and need. We are currently constructing this program with the intention of launching a pilot focused on 10 in-demand trades in Portland and Lewiston. Ultimately, the goal is to broaden it to include occupations across the spectrum. The three steps include:


• Perform an interview that’s language-assisted to establish the individuals’ prior work history and experience and to evaluate their literacy skills.

• Schedule an instructional assessment at a career and technical school or community college to determine skill levels and establish their ratings for both occupational and literacy skills.

• Post results to a website that matches individuals up with employers based on skill ratings and need.

As someone who cares deeply about the great state of Maine, and enjoys the “Original Italian sandwich,” I would like to thank Sen. Collins for leading the way on this effort in true Dirigo fashion. Let’s set politics aside to get bureaucratic red tape out of the way so that all Mainers who are here legally can become productive members of our communities. We need help, and they need jobs. Let’s not overthink this.

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