The Wrong Debate on Immigration

Thursday, 27 Oct 2011 09:23 AM

By Neal Asbury

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The immigration debate needs some independent thinking, so it was refreshing when New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently visited the U.S. Chamber of Commerce with some recommendations for a new approach to immigration reform.

His comments resonated with the very pro-business, pro-growth audience. He advocated that the U.S. should ease visa restrictions on highly skilled workers, business representatives and graduate students.

As an entrepreneur investing in American manufacturing companies, I could not agree more.

If you visit our company, you will find people of numerous nationalities working together for a common goal. Everyone has been chosen for their abilities.

The positive contribution of immigration to our workforce can be found everywhere. This is the beauty of America. No other nation has this boundless energy at its core.

As we continue to grow, we will need all sorts of specialized skills which many times are in short supply in the United States. Attracting these people from around the world will allow us to hire many others in our local community. It is not hard to see the wisdom behind this.

Mayor Bloomberg also called on Congress to increase the proportion of green cards that are awarded for economic reasons instead of reuniting families. He pointed out currently only seven percent of permanent-resident visas are given for the purpose of attracting talented workers and investors.

This nation has been caught up in the wrong debate. It shouldn’t be about punishing current illegal immigrants, it should be about attracting highly educated and skilled immigrants who want to devote their careers to furthering American innovation, productivity and entrepreneurism.

If we have learned anything about our “melting pot” mentality toward immigration, setting up barriers to the right kind of immigration seems terribly wrong.

You may be surprised to learn that the very foundation of the Internet rests on the brilliant minds of immigrants who came to America for the opportunity to live the American dream. One of the founders of Google is Sergey Brin, who was born in Moscow, Russia. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland in Mathematics and Computer Science, and in 1996, he was part of a research project that eventually became Google Inc.

In fact, Google has embraced immigrants into its workforce. For example, Omid Kordestani who was born in Iran, moved to California as a teenager, and became a senior vice president of Google.

Addressing the 2007 graduating class at San Jose State University, he said, “To keep my edge, I must think and act like an immigrant. There is a special optimism and drive that I have benefited from and continue to rely on that I want all of you to find…. Immigrants are inherently dreamers and fighters.”

Two of the three people who launched YouTube were also immigrants; Steven Chen, originally from Taiwan, and Jawed Karim, born in Germany. Immigrants also helped start Yahoo, eBay, and Sun Microsystems.

What could be more American than steel? Yet most people have forgotten that the U.S. steel industry was largely built by Andrew Carnegie, whose family emigrated from Scotland in the 1800s. In 1889, the steel output of the United States was more than that of the United Kingdom and the majority of American steel came from the Carnegie Steel plant.

If we choose to stop attracting visionaries like these to the United States, we will lose our competitive edge. Immigration is a tremendously powerful force that creates jobs and opportunities for millions of Americans.

During the past decade, immigrants have been the entrepreneurial sparkplugs of cities from New York to Los Angeles—starting a greater share of new businesses than native-born residents, stimulating growth in sectors from food manufacturing to healthcare, creating loads of new jobs, and transforming once-sleepy neighborhoods into thriving commercial centers.

And immigrant entrepreneurs are also becoming one of the most dependable parts of cities’ economies. While elite sectors like finance (New York), entertainment (Los Angeles) and energy (Houston) fluctuate wildly through cycles of boom and bust, immigrants have been starting businesses and creating jobs during both good times and bad.

If you want to see what happens when a country disparages immigrants, take a look at Japan, where despite facing an imminent labor shortage as its population ages, Japan has done little to open itself up to immigration.

In 2009, the number of registered foreigners in Japan fell for the first time since the government started to track annual records almost a half-century ago, shrinking to 2.19 million people — or just 1.71 percent of Japan’s overall population of 127.5 million.

Increased immigration would provide a huge boost to Japan’s two decades of lethargic economic growth. But instead of accepting young workers and bright minds — and along with them fresh ideas — Tokyo seems to have resigned itself to a demographic crisis that threatens to sink the country into the irrelevancy of a perpetual stale, stodgy economy.

Although America is going through a rough patch of its own, we will recover, whereas Japan will struggle. We will recover because of our diversity and our inclusiveness.

We need far-reaching changes to our immigration policy that allows hardworking people with big ideas and big hearts, equipped with their hard earned skills, talents and education, which play by the rules, pay taxes, learn to speak English and pledge allegiance to our flag, to come here to pursue their American dream.

These people will not take jobs, they will make jobs. And when they do, we all benefit.

© 2014 Moneynews. All rights reserved.

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