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The $787 billion economic stimulus package includes large investments in innovation in areas such as energy, health IT, and broadband. Developing these new technologies will be scientists and engineers, but here’s a reality check: we don’t have enough of them. Although increasing the number of U.S. scientists and engineers is a must, in the shorter term, we need a quicker fix: more high-skilled immigration.
Before the August congressional recess, key Senators anticipated that an immigration reform bill will be ready for the Senate to consider this fall. Given that congressional action on immigration could start soon, it is time again to highlight why the U.S. needs a smart immigration reform that considers high-skilled immigrants’ contributions to the economy.
The idea of an entrepreneur’s or start-up visa that grants high-skilled immigrants the right to stay if they start job-generating businesses is gaining traction. Last Wednesday, a Wall Street Journal article laid out the case for it and the next day it was discussed both at a meeting I attended on how to boost innovation in the U.S and at the President’s Jobs Summit as a way to create jobs.
We have long argued that the American model for development assistance could improve dramatically if entrepreneurship becomes a stronger element of economic development efforts. Unfortunately, the importance of new firm creation is a concept that has yet to gain relevance in traditional development models, such as the Washington Consensus. However, there are a few actors who understand the power of entrepreneurship and have been using it to improve lives. Diaspora entrepreneurs are using their experience and understanding about entrepreneurship to invest in new ventures in their country of origin. These transnational entrepreneurs view a globe of porous borders.
So we know that entrepreneurs are the primary engines of job creation in the United States. Research study after research study has confirmed that it is young firms that drive improvements in the employment situation. From 1980–2005, firms less than five years old accounted for all net job growth in the country. In 2007 alone, young firms (1-5 years old) accounted for nearly two-thirds of job creation. We also know more than half of the companies on the 2009 Fortune 500 list were launched during a recession or bear market, along with nearly half of the firms on the 2008 Inc. list of America’s fastest-growing companies. In light of all this evidence and in face of the employment crisis in the country, how can we truly support the entrepreneurs behind these young firms?
In the hopes to continue a much-needed conversation on how to revamp the economy, this week I would like to highlight another policy recommendation that emerged from the Kauffman Foundation’s State of Entrepreneurship address: reform immigration policy to attract migrants who want to start new companies and create jobs.
America’s heritage as a nation of immigrants is a source of tremendous economic strength, and current research confirms that immigrants who have been attracted to the U.S. for its pro-growth culture and excellent universities often stay and create valuable, fast-growing startup firms. High-skill immigrants in particular have two significant positive impacts on growth – first as critical engineering and science talent at U.S. companies and second as potential entrepreneurs of new U.S.-based companies. Despite the nearly universal bi-partisan support for high-skill immigration, the existing system of immigration into the U.S. has become a disaster. Visas and green cards are bureaucratic, the number of high-skill migrants to the U.S. is capped at an artificially low level, and security laws have made travel to the U.S. after 9/11 difficult. America now risks losing its attraction as a “brain magnet” in contrast to other nations that are reforming in order to compete for the critical resource known as human capital.
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