Florida’s new immigration policy which took effect July 1, 2023, is already being challenged in the courts. It may prove to be not only bad law but may also be bad for trade.

Immigrants are vital to the US Economy. They make up about 16.7% of the working population and create 25% of new businesses. Only 25% of the total number of US immigrants are undocumented (approx. 10.5 million people). In Florida, undocumented immigrants comprised 18% of the immigrant population and four percent of the total state population in 2016. While only a fraction of the state’s population is directly affected, Florida’s new immigration policy may be bad for trade.

The free movement of people can be considered not only a basic human right but an important benefit for trade and the global economy. Free movement of people means a mobile labor force, entrepreneurship, and new ideas to meet the needs of growing economies. Domestic concerns make it important to get the right mix of trade and labor and immigration policies. Florida’s immigration policy may be bad for trade.

What are the major provisions of “HB 1617/SB 1718”?

Under the provisions of “HB 1617/SB 1718”, no one is eligible to work for a private or public enterprise unless authorized to do so under federal immigration law. Employers who contravene this provision may need to repay any economic development incentives received, be placed on a one-year probation, and face added penalties in the event of a second violation. Public and private employers with 25 or more employees must use the E-Verify system to verify an employee’s employment eligibility status within the first three days of employment or face a significant fine and suspension of all applicable business licenses. A worker using false documentation is guilty of a third-degree felony and liable for a fine of up to $5000 or five years in prison. Persons found guilty of smuggling undocumented immigrants into the state face criminal penalties.

What do these provisions mean for the free movement of labor?

While the provisions aim to strengthen the enforcement of immigration laws, because undocumented immigrants hold a considerable share of the manual labor market, this law is expected to have short-term negative consequences. Florida Policy Institute, for example, has estimated that employers of six key industries would lose 10 percent of their workforce and the wages they contribute, resulting in a drop to Florida’s GDP by up to $12.6 billion in a single year. Cutting these workers’ spending power means state and local tax revenue would drop as well, the Institute continues. There may be an uptick in the cost of manual labor, adding to the dislocation of the industries. Furthermore, the policy sends a chilling message to all immigrants – documented and undocumented, skilled and unskilled. Many already in Florida are fleeing the state, while those not yet there will be deterred and seek employment in other states or countries. This picture is an unattractive one for potential investors into the Florida economy.

Realizing the potential to destabilize the economy, those responsible for the law have been touting its many “loopholes”. A more sustainable approach would be work to reform federal immigration law that achieves the right mix of trade, labor, and immigration policy.

Andrea Ewart

Andrea Ewart

I am a seasoned international trade and customs attorney, and policy adviser for various companies and governments with a demonstrated history of successfully developing and implementing sustainable and dynamic trade programs. I am experienced in creating partnerships with various business-support organizations to drive compliance and growth in the international market.