Immigration And Prosperity: Why Tech Needs Open Borders
Posted on April 11, 2012
There is possibly no single issue as polarizing or as telling about the state of the United States as the debate around immigration. Nearly everything discussed or written is but a thin veneer over the truth. No one dares expose the truth and yet it plays such a key role in determining the future health of the nation and it’s economic viability.
Our nation that for better or worse was built on the blood, sweat and tears of waves of immigrants has turned it’s back on it’s own salvation. Hidden within is the issue that our nation is embroiled in a cultural war pitting the secular against the devout in almost as dogmatic polarity as the Sunni’s and Shia. It is the forces of dogmatic bigotry against those that want to risk the traditional definitions of what constitutes the constituencies of the United States.
At one end of the immigration debate is the perception of cheap labor infiltrating the Southern border of the United States. There is concern that jobs will be stolen from U.S. citizens by illegal immigrants willing to work for less. The threat of diluting the devout coalition by Catholic Latinos is just below the surface. The purpose here is not to debate that end of the spectrum. Lost in the emotions is the fact that a good dose of cheap labor sure would be convenient in the scheme of global competition. Practical consideration at a moral price.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have the technological and economic viability of the United States. Our prosperity is built on the renegade, risk-taking entrepreneurial concoction of truly American innovation and invention – in addition to the fact that a disproportionate number of companies are created by immigrants. In Silicon Valley alone, immigrant-founded startups make up a remarkable 52 percent of companies. Wave upon wave of immigrants bought into the American dream that anything was possible in the United Sates and anyone who put in the effort could succeed here. We were to own that one magical thought in perpetuity but instead we have exported it to the world not in a gesture of generosity but in the incompetence bred in fear of immigration. Perhaps even in the moronic fear of adding Democrats to the voting roles as these immigrants assimilate into our society. The real fear should be directed at the complacency that seems to permeate subsequent generations that believe entitlement comes with citizenship via birthright.
While we educate the best talent from the four corners of the world, we have forgotten to keep the pick of the litter in the United States to develop economic prosperity and instead have contributed to the purge of technical talent back to where it came from by holding back work visas and making residency nearly impossible.
Following the graduates back to their homeland in China and India, our banks, venture capitalists, capital and investments have contributed to the globalization of our economic secret sauce. Not that we should have been greedy and kept it all but we should have kept our fair share. Instead, wrapped in fear of adding diversity in the form of culture and people who are a bit different than the current template of the United States we have closed the doors on a key ingredient. How did we forget that we used to just make fun of the newest wave of immigrants and then prospered on the backs of their hard work? That formula worked so well and should continue to evolve as the core of our economic strategy.
Let’s look at the technology and engineering industries as examples, which have been among the hardest hit by the talent shortage. According to a recent PwC survey, 43 percent of CEOs interviewed said that talent constraints have resulted in the inability to innovate effectively. For technology and engineering companies, remaining innovative is key to their survival. In addition, with technology and engineering skills widely needed but not interchangeable, companies are struggling to find the right person with the right skills. The impact of this talent shortage is felt by not only the companies that struggle to keep up with the output of their overseas competitors but by all of us through higher prices for imported technologies and off-shored services. Why are we continuing to send our U.S.-educated international students home when they can help to fill the technology and engineering talent shortages?
We should open those doors and incentivize the elite talent to become residents and hopefully over time citizens of our great nation so to keep it the glorious land of opportunity. Instead of closing our borders we should hope that immigrants who are talented and want to entrepreneurially participate in the creation of jobs, businesses and innovative new ideas stay. For example, nothing would add more to solving the housing situation then adding educated immigrants to the slowing growth rate of our native population. Instead, we have created a nightmare policy that has resulted in highly trained and motivated Indian immigrants having to wait 70 years in the current backlog to obtain a work visa.
Innovation as we know it thrived and is perhaps best exhibited in the value created by Apple in becoming the world’s most valuable corporation. Without serious reconsideration of our immigration policies, the next Apple will potentially originate elsewhere. As the land of opportunity drifts to other locations through our neglect and inept immigration policies even our own best talent will be at risk. Not infrequently do I hear the comment that “If I were just graduating I would seriously consider relocating to Beijing – Mumbai – Singapore – etc.” Let’s come to our senses and hang a welcome sign on the border: Buy a house, start a business, become a citizen.
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