The continued economic growth and technological edge that we enjoy in America hinges on our willingness to accept talented, legal immigrants into our industries. Looming threats of immigration reform that raise the difficulty of working in the United States are decreasing our ability to stay ahead of the rest of the world in scientific, engineering, medical, and academic innovation.
The Competitive Edge of Immigration
America is brazenly successful for its age. Compared to countries many times our senior, we have gone off the beaten path to forge a way for new people and new ideas to flourish within our borders. The United States is a nation built by immigrants, founded by those seeking asylum in the new world. To turn our backs to that ideal is foolish, and carries unintended consequences for our ability to continue our reign as a worldwide superpower.
As it stands today, 40% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants. One striking example is Apple, founded by Steve Jobs, the son of a first generation Syrian refugee. Without America’s acceptance of a Cuban immigrant, there’s a good chance that Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, would not have had the resources to found the online retail powerhouse.
Other major companies founded by immigrants include AT&T, Capital One, Kraft Foods, and Google. The list is extensive and impressive, further proving the value that the combination of skilled immigrants and American resources creates for our country and our world.
Entrepreneurial Spirit in the Immigrant Community
Fortune 500 companies are not the only ones that enjoy the benefits that the legal immigrant population bring to the economic table. Immigrants are almost twice as likely as native born Americans to open their own business.
According to the National Immigration Forum, “...For every 100,000 immigrants, 520 became entrepreneurs in a given month. Of all new entrepreneurs in 2016, 29.5 percent were immigrants… This representation is far above the immigrant community’s 13.2 percent of the U.S. population.”
These new businesses spur on much of the American technological innovation that supports the nation’s ability to maintain economic power, as well as providing job opportunities and stimulation to stagnating small-town economies.
The Small Business Administration notes that 99.9% of all U.S. businesses consist of less than 500 employees, and that these businesses employ over 58.9% of American workers. The immigrant entrepreneurial spirit creates opportunities for other legal immigrants and native-born Americans alike that would not be possible without their presence in our nation.
The Threat of China in the Technology Race
If the technological benefits that immigrants bring to America aren’t enough to change your mind, consider the flip side: Allowing unique talent to slip through our fingers in the name of immigration reform means that other countries obtain those talents, possibly to our detriment.
Other countries are nipping at our heels, gaining major strides in the technology race. In an excerpt from the article “China’s breathtaking transformation into a scientific superpower,” Robert J. Samuelson notes:
“In a sane world — shorn of nationalistic, economic, racial and ethnic conflicts — none of this would be particularly alarming. Technology is mobile, and gains made in China could be enjoyed elsewhere, and vice versa. But in our contentious world, China's technological prowess is potentially threatening, as the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a congressional watchdog group, has often pointed out.”
In fact, China is so intent on bringing in new talent for their technological pursuits that scientists and entrepreneurs can immigrate and be in a position in less than a week. Meanwhile, America’s immigration policies make the process wholly unappealing by removing the ability for the spouses of immigrants to work while in the United States and threatening laws that would allow states to detain any person suspected of being an illegal immigrant for up to 48 hours without bail.
China’s focus on military technology has many government and research groups concerned about our ability to beat back any potential threats to America’s liberty. As China gains ground in the technology race, we must continue to seek out talent from around the world to aid in our research and development pursuits.
Samuelson goes on to say, “The best response to this technological competition is to reinvigorate America's own technological base. For example: Overhaul immigration to favor high-skilled newcomers, not relatives of previous immigrants; raise defense spending on new technologies to counter China; increase other federal spending on ‘basic research.’"
By ignoring the strengths that immigrants can bring to the United States, we are putting ourselves in a position to lose the stance we currently hold as a nation of innovation, invention, and immigrants. While illegal immigration does have its downsides, legal immigration will only boost our ability to compete in an increasingly competitive world arena.