By Terry Howerton
July 29, 2015
American immigration policy, long stalled by the leadership in the House, is driving an economic crisis of our own making. It’s hampering our ability to compete on the global stage. Official policy attracts high-skilled immigrant talent to our universities, only to push them back to their countries of origin once they are ready to work… countries that are rapidly catching up to the American innovation machine.
I grew up in a small town in the middle of the country where I can’t recall many foreign born neighbors. I didn’t spend much time thinking about immigration. Heck, my own family first came to this country way back in 1642. How I became an immigration reform advocate — speaking, writing and agitating on the issue — may not be obvious.
But I’ve spent a career building, funding and working with tech companies, an industry fueled by — and largely dependent on — engineering and entrepreneurial talent migrating to this country. I married a naturalized citizen who came here for college. By circumstance of life, on two different occasions we’ve taken into our home two different undocumented, immigrant children — school friends of our own kids — in need of care. In addition to raising them, we’re helping them navigate a complex immigration system antithetical to the American history lessons they’re taught in school.
I helped start an inner city high school in Chicago deeply immersed in tech skills and lessons of entrepreneurship, only to later discover a significant percentage of kids in that school — and across the school system — were undocumented immigrants with no clear path to becoming the professional we are preparing them to be.
I’ve seen the impact of bad immigration policy up close and personal. I’ve also seen the value and importance of legal immigration to my family and my work. For me, it’s a clear moral and social priority for our country.
But it’s also an economic priority and rising crisis for America. Lack of action by Congress threatens our global competitiveness, and compromises our ability to grow new jobs here at home.
The immigrant entrepreneur is steeped in American history, and a major force driving the growth of our economy in recent decades. The debate too often claims immigrants “take jobs away from Americans”, but rarely acknowledges immigrant “job creators”. In 2014, 28.5% of all new entrepreneurs in the United States were immigrants.
Immigrants founded more than 40% of the current Fortune 500, employing more than 3.5 million workers around the world and generating nearly $2 trillion in revenue each year.
A Kauffman Foundation study concluded that between 1995 and 2005, more than half of all Silicon Valley tech companies were created by immigrant founders. Just those companies, in just that region, employed 560,000 workers and generated $63 billion in sales. Those stats continue to grow, and today more than one-third of all venture backed companies across America were created by immigrants. Immigrants are twice as likely in America to start new businesses as native born citizens.
Our universities continue to attract the brightest minds around the world. More than 3 out of 4 patents produced by top American universities had an immigrant inventor. A decade ago we retained many of those minds in the United States. Today, those folks are increasingly educated here and then forced out of the country. At a time when it’s easier to innovate and compete from any place, American policy seems bent on self-sabotage, a sort of self-inflicted economic pain.
American immigration policy seems bent on self-sabotage, a sort of self-inflicted economic pain.
To be fair there are certainly bad actors that justify some arguments against expanding immigration. Washington DC remains paralyzed in search of “comprehensive immigration reform”, in an attempt to weed out the bad actors, hopefully to result in a smart and just immigration policy.
The path forward must include the tech industry stepping up to acknowledge bad actors among us, too. Large and small tech companies growing innovation by hiring the best available talent is a very different thing than a staffing firm simply importing low cost employees. Smart H1B reform would accommodate the innovation economy’s need for more talent and excise the staffing firms or others that might be taking advantage of the same programs.
H1B visas are critical to helping American companies attract high-skilled talent, and hundreds of thousands of jobs are unfilled today in search of qualified candidates. The small allocation of H1B visas disappear within days each year, leaving tech startups and large companies in the lurch.
For every 100 immigrants that earn advanced degrees and are allowed to stay in the United States, 262 new jobs are created. For every 1% increase in H1B STEM employment, there’s a 7% to 8% increase in wages for US workers.
Congress has been close to passing comprehensive immigration reform. The Senate has now passed three bipartisan bills. The last bill had enough bipartisan votes in the House to send it to a President who was ready to sign it. But taking a vote on the bill wasn’t a priority for many, primarily Republicans representing districts with very little foreign born populations. Republican congressional districts average 8.3% foreign born populations, versus Democratic districts with close 18.9%, all across America.
Howerton speaking with Senator Lindsey Graham on July 30, 2015 in Chicago, as part of a series of presidential candidate visits to discuss immigration reform. “It’s not about the Republican Party. It’s about us as a nation, right? If we don’t get immigration right, we’re going to die on the vine as a nation,” Graham said to the group.
But this isn’t a Democratic issue, or a Republican issue. It’s an American issue.
Immigration reform must be comprehensive. It’s not enough to address the high-skilled talent, or the immigrant entrepreneur. We have to secure the borders, but we also have to create a path to citizenship for those already living here. Addressing our broad immigration policy would generate more than $1.5 trillion in economic gains for the US over the next ten years.
Though that doesn’t account for the real outliers… Sergey Brin immigrated and cofounded Google, which has generated nearly a third of that amount in revenue over the last decade. Add in an Elon Musk, or countless other innovators and entrepreneurs that successfully made it to America (and then made it IN America), and the countless others that are trying to immigrate today, and it’s clear American prosperity is dependent on getting this problem fixed.
It’s time to reopen America for innovation and growth.
It’s time to reopen America for innovation and growth. It’s time for immigration reform, now.
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com