Thursday, January 20, 2011

Immigration - A Way to Move Forward in A New Global Economy

It was 1776, July 4th and our great nation was born with these immortal words....

"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,[72] that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."

Everyone recognizes this of course as our nations declaration of independence from the Great Britain. It was a nation that took universal values implemented from global ideals through many different nations and cultures that were prevalent at that time. The founding fathers were brilliant in incorporating these values into our declaration and the constitution.

The cliche - true - is that our nation was built by immigrants and as such our country prides itself from the diversity and the melting pot that was created over the past three centuries. But I feel in the past 10 years, we are turning more inwards and we think we can continue to compete in this world alone. "We have had enough immigration, we really need to stop those "immigrants" from coming in and stealing our jobs."

Well, guess what, these "immigrants" do not need to even come to our country to "steal" our jobs. In this "Flat World" jobs are going anywhere and everywhere. In fact we are now competing for talent as well as jobs around the globe.

So how do we fight this fight and how does immigration come into play? First and foremost, our nation is underpopulated compared to our competitors like China, India and Brazil. We have vast resources our population is 1/3 of China and India. This gives us plenty of room to increase our population through immigration without putting a dent on our natural resources. Second, we absolutely need positive immigration to continue to attract the skills and talents from abroad. We simply will not be able to produce local talent fast enough to keep pace with global expansion of skills. The reality is we do not reproduce enough and secondly we can't educate more skills fast enough. Best case if we revolutionized our education system and forced everyone who needs retraining to get magically retrained tomorrow, we still would not be able to keep up with the new skills and talent that we need to revitalize and compete in the global economy.

So how do we manage this? Immigration is the answer - the very thing that built this nation and the very document (Declaration of Independence) that has been the beacon of light for all people. Instead of turning xenophobic and putting up more walls, we should open up our immigration policy. Now wait a minute, are we saying just do not monitor borders and allow everyone that is not what I am saying.

But let's examine two extreme sectors and I think my point will be clearer. First let's consider the blue collar workers like farm workers, day laborers and other traditional Central and South American workers who dominate our economy today in this sector. We all know that much of the national outrage is focused on these kind of workers, i.e Arizona Laws. Our complaints for them is they are using up our resources like education, healthcare and other social services when they are illegal and not paying into the system. So should we kick them out? The answer we all know is a BIG NO! Why? Because simply put we need them here. There is no way our economy could function without their contribution. BUT we should legalize this process by making it easy for them to come across the borders, work legally and contribute their "fair share" into our society. Issue workers permits in those employment categories with no pathway to citizenship. This would allow these workers to legally come to the United States, be gainfully employed, pay taxes, sales taxes and property taxes but they would not have a pathway to citizenship or residency. They must keep their criminal records clean and they cannot have unpaid debts. You combine these with other simple restrictions and then have a 5 year permitting process, we will gain tremendous advantage in competing globally by allowing cheaper laborers working in this country doing the work necessary to increase manufacturing and provide services that there is no way to produce without these workers. Will they displace "American" jobs? Maybe, but I doubt these jobs are being fulfilled by native American in big numbers to begin with. Yes there will be casualties but the upside is huge and necessary in my opinion. President Bush's workers permit program was a good program and we should implement it. This is the way we compete with the "low wage" workers in other countries. We bring our own here. We have the room, the resources to make it happen and many are already here but they can not participate in big numbers contributing to our growth.

The second category is the highly skilled educated workers. Historically we have done fairly well in attracting these type of immigrants, but after 9/11 our immigration policy at all levels is very prohibitive. Combine that with the growing opportunities in China and India, we are much less attractive for these workers and entrepreneurs to come to the USA. Why would a highly skilled person ready to make money and invent 10 things wait 15 years to immigrate to the USA or work under a dubious H-1 visa when they can stay / go to China or India and work for the same US multinational company and invent and contribute there immediately. Or better yet, why should a student studying at Harvard, Stanford, MIT, or any of our hundreds of first class universities getting a PhD or Masters try to find a job in the USA when he/she can go to India and quickly start reaping the rewards of his/her degree faster? Because staying in the USA, means I have to convince my employer to "Sponsor" my green card, toil in the system for a decade, and then maybe I will have the rights to stay here. This antiquated immigration policy is causing the brain drain in reverse! We used to be the brain drainers in the past. Now its going the other way, we are experiencing lack of positive immigration from the elite highly skilled people simply because they do not see our immigration policy favorably. Its too difficult and cumbersome! I propose that we streamline this process. First and foremost, if you study in the USA and get a Masters or PhD in any of our first class university, we will staple a green card to your degree/diploma upon graduation. Why not? The country just spent thousands of dollars educating this person (all universities receive government subsidies at some levels) and now we are going to let him go back to China, India or wherever to implement this education? Why? Keep this valuable resource here, have him invent contribute and engineer here for a US Company. We still have some of the best quality of life and systems and in my mind most of these folks if they were to be incented to get a green card upon graduation they would stay. This would immediately increase immigration of highly skilled workers to the USA. Young bright students that qualify to go to our top universities will gladly come to the USA to study in hopes of getting a green card. Exactly the way to accelerate the future skill set in this country. Keep us in the competitive edge for a very long time. Oh and by the way, how do we limit this? We make sure that they graduate from first class accredited university. Not the local internet school that hands out Masters and PhD's. We are talking the great private and state universities of this country - and there are hundreds!

So do we need to strengthen our immigration policy? Yes we do, but I propose we strengthen it by doing some of the things I suggest above. Yes we still should secure our borders and yes we do have issues, but I can tell you this....spending $1 billion dollars on a great wall is not the answer! I assure you this will not keep the crazies away! Spend a billion dollars in educating these immigrants and then encourage them to stay in this country. The biggest benefit we have for this is we will start bringing the very talent that China and India depend on back to the USA. Second, by having a positive immigration policy, we will start the next step in enriching our country with the people we need to add to continue to compete with the emerging economies.

To protect this country we need to open ourselves more to positive immigration not shut it down! We are competing for the people to make us successful. I assure you what we have locally is not enough. We need more people to create new companies, innovate and produce more. That will inevitably help grow this economy faster than the measly 2.5% we are doing right now.

So write to your congressman/woman and encourage them to reform immigration...not by putting up walls up but rather encourage positive immigration of the skill, labor and talent we have been so good at attracting in the past.

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