As the Internet and global commerce speed the flow of information, and as products and services for American consumers can be built in and delivered from just about any country in the world, there are fewer and fewer incentives for companies to locate their businesses here.
But there is one competitive advantage we have that is driving global businesses to locate and create jobs here in America: Our talent. Businesses will follow talent wherever it goes in the world, and, fortunately for the United States, when people vote with their feet they want to come here. Unfortunately for us, we turn away many of these people; in doing so, we help our competitors land the talent they need to compete against us.
U.S. immigration policy could create a more capable and efficient workforce, a fairer distribution of wages and more humane treatment of migrant families. Instead, our policies harm our economy by making the United States less competitive, and they threaten the livelihoods of millions of immigrants. The United States turns away more than half of all foreign-born PhDs graduating from U.S. universities in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields — precisely the workforce we need most to compete in today’s industries. We are educating, then turning away, our most critical assets that would help us remain competitive in the global marketplace.
Why do we do this? Business leaders I work with agree we are being deceived by fear, uncertainty and doubt (also known as “FUD”). Our immigration policy is defined by the vocal fringe of both political parties. The real economics of immigration are trumped by emotions swirling around the issue. Valuable data about immigration is obscured by rhetoric. Politics, emotions and rhetoric have obscured the true impacts of immigration and lead to a broken immigration system.
I’ve seen the terrible effects of our immigration policy in my business. When I started a mobile finance company that lets people use smartphones to send money to friends and family in other countries, my co-founder was forced out of the United States to get his H-1B visa processed. Here was a leader with unparalleled technical and business skills, and my country sent him to India for months of delays after he had completed a master’s degree at Carnegie Mellon University and helped build another technology startup before ours.
Immigration is woven into our national fabric.
I flew to our U.S. Consulate General in New Delhi and camped outside the door of the immigration office for hours while I watched everyone, including the top-ranking official in the office, drowning in paperwork and appointments. I called anyone I could. Finally, my state senator helped me find 15 minutes with the right person at the consulate, who then helped me process a work visa to allow my co-founder to return to his home in the United States and build our company. Today we employ nearly 75 people in the United States, with new job openings every month.
Our overwhelmed public servants aren’t to blame for our faulty immigration system. According to recent news coverage, a decade-long project to digitize 95 immigration forms, costing more than $1 billion, has brought just one of those 95 forms online, with a single new online fee payment option. The project, originally budgeted at $500 million, is projected to cost upwards of $3.1 billion when complete in 2019 (six years behind schedule).
Like my co-founder, my customers have shown me the first-hand effects of fear, uncertainty and doubt regarding migrants.
Millions of migrants use services like mine to send their hard-earned wages from developed to developing economies. In fact, their voluntary transfer of money triples the sum of foreign aid budgets to the same developing economies. These migrants, spending time away from their families, working, are flattening our world while a leading presidential candidate in the U.S. calls for mass deportations of 11 million immigrants. On this he says, “We have no choice.”
Yes we do.
Fear, uncertainty and doubt maintain the status quo, but we cannot improve and evolve by maintaining the status quo. We need comprehensive immigration reform to create a flatter, more equal world. The first step in comprehensive immigration reform is cutting through the FUD.
Understand policy: U.S. immigration policy has remained virtually unchanged since the 1960s, and only about 7 percent of all U.S. green cards are given for economic reasons.
Quantify the economic impact: By 2018, America will face a projected shortfall of more than 200,000 advanced-degree STEM holders. We are sending away the supply of STEM-educated immigrants who would meet this demand.
Look at data: A quarter of all Americans who have won Nobel Prizes have been immigrants, even though immigrants make up just an eighth of the population.
And this isn’t just a high-skilled issue. Immigration helps power our farms, our hotels, our restaurants, our laundromats and businesses from all sectors that drive the U.S. economy.
Finally, look at our history: We are a nation built by immigrants, fueled by cities and towns developed by immigrants, with vital services staffed by immigrants. Immigration is woven into our national fabric. Why would we let fear, uncertainty and doubt undo the stitching?
Improving our immigration policy doesn’t just sound right to my peers who are founding companies in the United States, and it’s not just a humanitarian effort — evidence shows it will make our nation stronger and more competitive at every level in every industry. It’s time to recognize and cut through the political fear, uncertainty and doubt that are clouding our view of this issue.
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