A few years ago, I went through a nightmare trying to get to permanent resident status in the United States. My file sat in a box for over a year, was lost, re-submitted and FINALLY rushed through by Ted Kennedy's office. And I was on a "fast track" due to a long record of published research and employment history. I had the means to pay lawyers and the time to repeat the filing and wait for a decision. If I didn't have the means or the time to wait for the process to complete, I don't know where I'd be, but in all likelihood, it wouldn't be here. It's no surprise that immigration reform is high on my list of priorities, and given SoftLayer's involvement in the USCIS Entrepreneurs in Residence program along with Lance's appointment to a Bloomberg committee focused on immigration reform, it's clear I'm not alone.
The bi-partisan Partnership for a New American Economy recently published a very interesting report — Not Coming to America: Why the US is Falling Behind in the Global Race for Talent — that speaks to a lot of the challenges plaguing the current US immigration policy. Because of those challenges, "the future of America's position as the global magnet for the world's most talented and hardest-working is in jeopardy." Here are a few of the projected economic realities of not reforming immigration laws to keep up with other countries:
SHORTAGE OF WORKERS IN INNOVATION INDUSTRIES: Jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math ("STEM" fields) are increasing three times faster than jobs in the rest of the economy, but American students are not entering these innovative fields in sufficient numbers. As a result, by 2018, we face a projected shortfall of 230,000 qualified advanced-degree STEM workers.
SHORTAGE OF YOUNG WORKERS: The US population is aging, baby boomers are retiring en masse, and the growth in the US labor force has slowed to historic lows of less than 1 percent. We cannot continue to produce the GDP growth the nation has come to expect without dramatic increases in productivity or welcoming more working age immigrants.
A STALLED ECONOMY: The US has faced years of stunted economic growth. History shows that new businesses are the biggest drivers of job creation, yet the most recent US Census data show that the number of business startups has hit a record low.
This concern isn't unique to the United States. With a global focus on innovation and technology, countries around the world are actively competing for the best and the brightest. In Canada, a report a few weeks ago spoke to Canada's need to double in size in the next few decades or risk losing relevance and becoming just another resource-rich colony. The nation's response? It's ready to open its doors to more immigrants.
The same applies to the United States ... It just may take longer.
Go back to how this country was built, and apply that to today. The biggest difference: The "skilled trades" we talk about in the most general sense are no longer carpenters like my grandfather but highly educated programmers, engineers and researchers. The idea isn't to replace the programmers, engineers and researchers in the US, rather it's to meet the existing unmet needs for programmers, engineers and researchers.
In all of SoftLayer's efforts to affect change in the US immigration policy, we have to make clear that our goal is not to drop the walls simply to add more permanent residents. It's about lowering many of the current artificial barriers that might prevent the next Fortune 500 founder from starting his or her business in the United States. If you don't think that's a serious concern, I'd point to a pretty surprising stat in the "Not Coming to America" report: "Today, more than 40 percent of America's Fortune 500 companies were founded by an immigrant or a child of an immigrant."
Immigration drives the economy. It's not a drain on the economy. Every country needs more smart people because smart people create new ideas, new ideas become new businesses, and new businesses create new jobs.
Because this is a politically charged issue, it's one I know many people don't necessarily agree with. Along with immigration, we have to look at how the education system can empower young people like my son to become the programmers, engineers and researchers that the US will need, and we have to be intentional about not simply adding permanent residents for the sake of adding permanent residents. If you have any thoughts one way or the other, I'd encourage you to share them with us here in a blog comment or link us to any of the resources you've found interesting in researching and discussing the topic.