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Immigration Reform: Good for Business, Good for the Economy

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Last week, President Obama renewed his efforts to work with Congress to reform America’s immigration laws. Pressing for an urgent and civil debate, the President made the case that immigration reform was a national security and moral imperative – he also made clear that America’s economy cannot afford to wait.  

There are two realities that must permeate the political grandstanding far too common in the debate about immigration. First, immigration helps drive innovation and economic growth. Second, our current system stifles it.

The American dream is rooted in the individual’s potential to sprout an idea and nurture it to fruition, no matter one’s country of origin.

Take, for example, Intel, Google, Yahoo, and Ebay – all four now-industry giants were once startups founded by immigrants. These companies revolutionized the way our world works – helping spur a new wave of innovation and crystalize America’s position as a global technology leader.

Recent estimates suggest that immigrants make up more than 12 percent of the American population as well as 16.7 percent of all new business owners. The Small Business Administration estimates that immigrant business owners generate $67 billion out of the $577 billion in total U.S. business income each year.

There’s no question that our country benefits from the intelligence, perseverance, and innovation of those who create, grow, and hire. We want the best and brightest, and our laws should reflect that.

It’s that ambition that helps drive America’s competitive edge. As the President said in his El Paso speech

[Immigration] reform will also help to make America more competitive in the global economy. Today, we provide students from around the world with visas to get engineering and computer science degrees at our top universities.  
 
But then our laws discourage them from using those skills to start a business or a new industry here in the United States. Instead of training entrepreneurs to stay here, we train them to create jobs for our competition. That makes no sense. In a global marketplace, we need all the talent we can attract, all the talent we can get to stay here to start businesses -- not just to benefit those individuals, but because their contribution will benefit all Americans.

Hardly a stranger to business, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates has been making this case for years, including during a 2008 congressional hearing:

[M]any U.S. firms, including Microsoft, have been forced to locate staff in countries that welcome skilled foreign workers to do work that could otherwise have been done in the United States, if it were not for our counterproductive immigration policies. Last year, for example, Microsoft was unable to obtain H-1B visas for one-third of the highly qualified foreign-born job candidates that we wanted to hire.

Unfortunately, Microsoft’s problem is far too common among American businesses.

In each of the past 14 months, the United States has seen private-sector job growth -- more than 2 million total new jobs. And if that trend is to continue in the long run, America’s economy needs every tool at its disposal – including an immigration system that works for our economy.