Dean C. Garfield photo
Immigration reform means a stronger Silicon Valley and U.S. economy

This op/ed was originally published by the Mercury News.

The recent jobs report and the decline in fourth quarter GDP growth reinforce that the U.S. economy is teetering on the edge of stalling. The policy decisions made in 2013 will be critical in determining our fate. To ensure a future of renewed prosperity and innovation, we should move quickly to advance immigration reform.

As an immigrant who spent six years separated from his mother as she dealt with the immigration bureaucracy, I understand the moral imperative of immigration reform. That said, there should be no doubt that reform is in the best interest of Silicon Valley, of California and of our nation.

The data is undeniable. When a foreign-born advanced-degree graduate from a U.S. university decides to stay here and work in a math or science field, an additional 2.6 jobs are created. Multiply that by 50,000 or 100,000 foreign graduate students, and you begin to see just how forcefully immigration reform can propel the economy.

From 1995 through 2005, immigrants founded 25 percent of the venture-backed start-ups in the U.S., and nearly 50 percent in Silicon Valley. In 2011, immigrant entrepreneurs were responsible for more than one in four new U.S. businesses, and immigrant businesses employ one in every ten people working for private companies. Immigrants and their children founded 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies. These firms, including dynamic brands like Apple, Google, eBay and IBM, collectively generated $4.2 trillion in revenue in 2010 -- more than the GDP of every country in the world except the United States, China, and Japan.

Immigration is innovation. Every day that goes by without immigration reform is another day when new jobs and new industries start in foreign countries instead of within American shores. If we want the next-generation industries to be founded in San Jose instead of Shenzhen, then our policy makers must seize this moment and produce legislation that all sides can support. If done right, immigration reform will result in a stronger innovation economy for the U.S., with new industries, new jobs, and new opportunities.

To achieve our full economic potential, we must deal with the entire spectrum of immigrants. Reforming our high skill system will allow companies to fill tens of thousands of good-paying but vacant jobs in knowledge-dependent sectors. ITI recently co-authored a report with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Partnership for a New American Economy on this topic. It found that immigrants working in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields in the U.S. do not compete with American workers but complement them. Reform can help address our STEM skills gap, reward entrepreneurship and fund a pipeline of homegrown STEM students.

If Congress can reach agreement on a fair process to legalize the millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States, experts predict that they would add $1.5 trillion to the U.S. gross domestic product during the next 10 years. This would create a cycle that exerts upward pressure on the wages of both American and immigrant workers. Higher wages and better jobs translate into increased consumer purchasing power, which benefits the U.S. economy.

Fortunately, the President and Republicans and Democrats in Congress are forging common ground on a set of policy principles that would serve the national interest. This leadership is a once-in-a-generation opportunity, and all of us who have a stake in an effective immigration system should work to build support for it. We cannot afford to miss this opportunity to turn away from old, misguided stereotypes and toward a stronger American future.

Public Policy Tags: Immigration