The immigration issue has arisen to the forefront of political discourse – indeed it will be a major issue in 2016. But rather than making it a political football, US legislators need to look at it from a less passionate and more pragmatic – and certainly a less partisan – perspective. Think manufacturing.
After the November 2012 elections, members of both parties recognized that it was time to address a long-neglected aspect of US public policy: the fractured immigration system. The discussion couldn’t be more urgent. Immigration policies are outdated, inefficient, and an impediment to competitiveness, particularly for manufacturers.
Comprehensive immigration reform will allow the nation to meet current and future workforce needs by welcoming people who can innovate and build – regardless of country origin.
Consider these facts:
- More than 600,000 US manufacturing jobs are unfilled today because workers don’t possess the right skills. Modern manufacturing requires an increasingly advanced skill set, one that too few US workers currently possess;
- To compete in the global economy, US manufacturers need a skilled workforce now – the right person with the right skills at the right time;
- In response, manufacturers try to close the skills gap in a number of ways (e.g., better education and training programs [by partnering with educational institutions, the military, and other organizations]), but they are looking at a longterm solution. Training and education take time.
Keep the Door Open
The United States has a history of opening its doors. Men and women who arrived on our shores in hopes of a better life made incredible contributions to our economy.
In fact, immigrants started some of the nation’s most prominent businesses, according to a study conducted by the Partnership for a New American Economy (an entity that includes business and civic leaders). The study revealed that more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were either started by an immigrant or an immigrant’s offspring.
American manufacturing enterprises founded by immigrants span all sectors – technology, steel, chemicals, and medical devices, among many others. Impact is as widespread: the study demonstrated that major companies founded by immigrants or children of immigrants have an economic impact larger than the entire economies of all but two of our largest competitors (Japan and China).
But US immigration laws make such past successes more difficult today. Too often, when talented students from abroad receive their education and degree in the United States, they return home. We’re ceding talent to competitor nations and, more significantly, spurning a future generation of innovative entrepreneurs.
Need for New Immigration Vision
The United States has always stood for economic opportunity, and individuals continue to see our country as a place to build a better life. Sure, immigration reform is clearly necessary for economic security. It’s the right thing to do. However, the US has been unable to keep pace with those wishing to live here. Laws are violated.
That’s why immigration reform can’t focus solely on attracting talent from abroad. As a nation, we must also face the reality that 11 million individuals reside in the United States without legal status. Comprehensive immigration reform will never become a reality without providing a humanitarian solution for the millions of undocumented individuals in the United States.
The time has come for a new vision.
Immigration reform will strengthen the nation, making it more competitive, making it more competitive. Welcome the many individuals eager to share; their talents will contribute to an economy that needs bolstering.
The situation provides an opportunity to inspire many new Americans (i.e., immigrants) with the principles and values that have made our country the most powerful economy in the world.
Author Jay Timmons is president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and a leading advocate for the nearly 12 million Americans employed in the manufacturing sector. NAM is the largest US manufacturing association. Its mission is to foster a stronger economy by enhancing the competitiveness of American manufacturers. To learn more about the organization, visit www.nam.org.