Bloomberg to U.S. Chamber: Immigration Means Jobs!

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has emerged as a leader in a national campaign for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR): the Partnership for a New American Economy (PNAE), a coalition of business leaders and big-city mayors, all trying to breathe new life into the sputtering effort to pass CIR. As a self-made billionaire who straddles the worlds of high finance and hometown politics, Bloomberg gives street credibility to PNAE’s campaign, on Wall Street and Main Street. He and other pragmatists want to dispel the ideological fear and loathing that have turned our national immigration debate into something more like a shouting match. (See Study: Immigrants Drive Our Economy, MurthyBlog, 25.Jul.2011.)

Last week, Mayor Bloomberg laid out his understanding of the current immigration impasse, and the benefits of breaking the logjam on CIR. In a keynote address to a conference on immigration and American competitiveness, sponsored by PNAE and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Bloomberg articulated a clear-eyed economic rationale for restructuring our immigration system. The bottom line? Immigration is good for business, and immigration means jobs! (See Mayor Bloomberg Delivers Keynote Address at Immigration and American Competitiveness Conference, remarks as delivered, NYC Office of the Mayor, 28.Sep.2011.)

At the outset, Mayor Bloomberg discussed the country’s economic concerns, pointedly remarking, “we can’t just spend our way out this crisis, nor can we cut our way out without doing both. We have to grow our way out – and to do that, we need a new approach. This means growing businesses,” Bloomberg said, “expanding markets overseas, spurring innovation and entrepreneurship, and creating jobs for Americans on every rung of the economic ladder.”

But how, exactly? At a time when so many Americans are still looking for work, Bloomberg’s answer may seem counterintuitive, but he makes a compelling case for growing the economy through carefully targeted immigration reforms. This could start, he suggests, if both parties stopped playing only to their political bases and started paying attention to the raw economics of immigration. Some might suggest that this threshold condition, bracketing out partisan politics, makes Bloomberg’s proposal a mere chalkboard exercise, but it’s eminently worth hearing him out. Bloomberg pinpoints several areas where policy change is urgently needed, and he has the independence to speak his mind on this issue without having to pull punches.

In his keynote speech, Bloomberg pitched four proposals for fixing our immigration system:

1. Give economic factors greater weight in distributing visas.

Bloomberg points out that about 15 percent of U.S. visas are allocated on the basis of economics, with the remainder provided for family reunification and humanitarian purposes. He is careful to emphasize the importance of humanitarian and family concerns, but clearly is alarmed by the way this apportionment affects our economy: “…we cannot afford to keep turning away those with skills that our country needs to grow and succeed. It is sabotaging our economy. I’ve called it national suicide – and I think it really is.” Bloomberg goes on:

“That’s why I think we should dramatically expand the numbers of green cards available for the best of the best – the highest-skilled workers we need to join the U.S. economy permanently. These high-skill workers will not only help create thousands of jobs, they’ll also give us knowledge of foreign markets that will help U.S. businesses increase their exports.”

This actually will stimulate job growth for native-born Americans, Bloomberg argues, noting that, “One study found that a one percent increase in immigrants working in managerial and professional jobs leads to a three percent increase in U.S. exports to their home country.”

2. Give automatic green cards to foreign students who earn advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.

Mayor Bloomberg notes that a vast percentage – on the order of two-thirds – of all computer science and engineering Ph.D.s at U.S. universities are earned by foreign students, “the individuals who make the discoveries and innovations that propel businesses and create jobs for Americans.” Yet – as other observers have noted – our system makes it too difficult for them to stay here much beyond graduation. This must change, he argues:

“Turning these students out of the country is, to put it bluntly, about the dumbest thing that we could possibly do. Other countries are bending over backwards to attract these students, and we’re helping them to do it… We are in competition with the rest of the world for the best and the brightest. We have to make sure that they and their families want to stay here. And unfortunately or fortunately, the truth of the matter is there are lots of alternatives for people in this day and age.”

3. Provide more visas for immigrant entrepreneurs, and green cards for successful job creators.

Bloomberg points out that immigrants “are more than twice as likely as those born in America to start a new company,” citing the high proportion of immigrants who founded high-tech companies in Silicon Valley, and the large share of businesses – over 40 percent – on last year’s Fortune 500 list that were founded by immigrants or children of immigrants. Importing more entrepreneurs will create more jobs for more Americans, he argues:

“America already has some of the most enterprising individuals on Earth, but entrepreneurs are like engineering Ph.D.’s and computer scientists: You just can’t have enough of them, particularly when we have an enormous number of people unemployed in this country. People say, ‘Why bring more immigrants into this country when you have unemployed?’ Because that’s the solution to the unemployment problem in this country – more jobs being created by more businesses.”

4. Get rid of the H1B visa cap, eliminate country quotas for employment-based green cards, and use our immigration system to aggressively recruit the most talented people from overseas.

According to Mayor Bloomberg, we should let the markets determine how many talented people are brought here on work visas – not numerical caps or restrictions based on country of origin. He cautions that, while our immigration system turns away thousands of the best and brightest who would like to live and work here, other countries – China, Israel, and Chile, as well as English-speaking competitors like Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand – are assiduously courting the highly-skilled foreign STEM workers on which their economies depend. For instance, Bloomberg notes:

“In China, the government offers tax breaks, cheap loans, and start-up capital to Chinese citizens who are educated overseas and then return to start a business. China also has launched what it calls the ‘Thousand Talents Program,’ a campaign to lure back top Chinese scientists with cash and well-funded laboratories.”

Mayor Bloomberg’s point is well taken: global economic competition extends to all of the factors of production, including the smart people who invent things, design things, and devise winning strategies to move their products in the marketplace. He argues – lucidly and cogently – that our country cannot afford to turn away the next Albert Einstein or Sergei Brin. Most everyone would agree on that. Given the impressive group of business leaders and big-city mayors who share Mr. Bloomberg’s perspective, we should expect these ideas to gain traction among the policy mandarins in Washington. The real challenge is convincing people on Main Street, USA, that immigration reform can be a tool of economic recovery – that immigration means jobs – and if they can be persuaded, Congress will be hard-pressed not to follow.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.