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Immigration reforms could drive U.S. recovery

Posted on November 14, 2011
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Mayors, CEOs work to keep skilled foreign students, entrepreneurs

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Chinese applicants wait for issuance of U.S. travel visas. Difficulty in getting such visas concerns tourism industry leaders in Tennessee and elsewhere.

America’s eagerness to compete on the world stage over the past 200 years, along with its constitutional freedoms, made it into the pre-eminent economic power and the destination for disaffected and displaced people from all parts of the globe.

Lately, we have lost a significant amount of that luster.

Dozens of emerging economies such as Brazil and India are getting bigger shares of the international trade pie, and are modernizing and diversifying at a faster rate than the United States. What’s more, they are becoming the destination for highly skilled workers and creative entrepreneurs — even when those individuals have trained or earned their degrees at American universities.

Our nation’s academic and business leaders know that it doesn’t have to be this way, that many skilled foreign workers, students and entrepreneurs want to live in America. But just as some parts of the U.S. economy haven’t kept up, neither have our immigration laws.

Restrictions on work visas, verification of employment eligibility and obtaining legal status are such that foreigners who have exhausted every avenue in attempting to stay and start a business in America often have no choice but to move to another country or return to their homeland to pursue their dream.

That simply is not what this country is about, and the Partnership for a New American Economy knows this.

This organization, begun a year and a half ago by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, unites business leaders and mayors from around the country in pushing for reform to immigration laws that would allow talented innovators and job creators to stay in this country, fueling our economy, preparing it for the challenging century ahead of us.

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce have signed on to this partnership, citing this city as a hub for entrepreneurs, and a place where another major industry, tourism, feels the pinch of tough immigration restrictions.

The partnership supports efforts to get Congress to change portions of immigration law, rather than trying to force sweeping reform, which has repeatedly stalled amid the nation’s sharply polarized political landscape.

They are armed with compelling statistics; for example, that for every temporary visa granted to a highly skilled foreign worker, five additional American jobs are created, and that 41 percent of patents filed by the U.S. government have gone to foreign-born inventors or co-inventors.

Additionally, a large percentage of degrees in American science and engineering programs are earned by immigrants. Not enough American-born students are completing those programs to keep American companies moving forward.

The partnership supports proposals to allow immediate green cards for graduates with advanced degrees from U.S. universities; creation of a visa for entrepreneurs who have a business plan and committed venture capital; and raising the visa cap on temporary highly skilled workers.

These are common-sense, low-risk initiatives that ought to have broad bipartisan support, not just because of the jobs they would create, or the edge that would be restored to American businesses trading abroad. These steps would restore a measure of fairness to the nation’s immigration policies, burnish the reputation of American companies abroad, and send the message that this country welcomes people who believe in democracy and free enterprise.

Members of Congress should not let this effort get lost in pre-election politics. Hundreds of thousands of high-paying jobs across the U.S. and in Tennessee depend on it.

Ted Rayburn

13 Nov 2011

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