By Kamana Mathur
Given the current recession, immigration reform has taken a back seat to bailout plans, energy independence, the war in the Middle East, and practically everything else. With the increasing number of jobless Americans, how can we as a nation justify immigrant-friendly policies? Immigration has always been a subject of heated debate. We have accused immigrants of taking away American jobs, increasing crime, and fundamentally changing our way of life. Economists have long argued the opposite – that immigrants by taking jobs U.S. workers are unwilling or unable to do, make us a more productive and competitive nation. Immigrants come here to make a life for themselves and their families. They work hard, pay taxes, and try to fit in.
The bottom line at a time of high-unemployment is this: does immigration help or hurt America and Americans? Some interesting studies, one most recently done by Kerr and Lincoln at the Harvard Business School, indicate a strong correlation between immigration and the number of patents filed in the U.S. The link could be attributed to the fact that individuals who are willing to take the risk of leaving their known surroundings to immigrate to the U.S. tend to be more innovative in thinking and more entrepreneurial in spirit. They are more likely to find innovative problems-solving solutions and take the risk of starting a new enterprise in an effort to attain the “American dream.” A spinoff effect is that those who work, play, or study with them tend to become more innovative in thinking as well.
Pittsburgh has a long history of immigration. During the early 1900’s, a large number of German, Polish, and other workers were brought here to work in the coal mines. With the decline of the steel industry, workers lost their jobs but stayed here in Pittsburgh.
Currently, with the “reinvention” of Pittsburgh as a high-tech haven and medical super-center, it is attracting another type of immigrant – a highly educated, professional worker in the engineering, high-tech, or medical field. Although Hispanics constitute the largest immigrant group in the U.S., Pittsburgh is home to more Indian immigrants that any other nationality. But with job losses across the board, it is not surprising that employment-based immigration to the U.S. has started to decline, and this trend is likely to continue.
Congress is burdening taxpayers with the costs of bailing out industries in order to stave off even more job losses. But why not use immigrants to bail out the economy? We already provide E2 visas to those individuals from select countries who are willing to start or invest in a business in the U.S. Why not expand the program to individuals from more countries? A little-known visa category, the EB-5, qualifies foreign investors for a Green Card if they are willing to invest at least $500,000 in a “targeted employment area” and create at least 10 jobs. Pittsburgh is one such area. We would do well to seek out such investors, individuals who could not only create jobs and invest in our growth, but who would make Pittsburgh a more attractive place for the young and talented.
America is undoubtedly one of the most desirable places to live in the world. Here, we can still reap the benefits of hard work and enterprise, express our opinions freely, and live wherever we choose. We should consider taking steps to attract the many well-qualified, hardworking, and talented people from all over the world who would like to live, work, and invest in our country. It is time the Obama Administration take a close look at our immigration policies and make it easier for foreign investors to come to the U.S., start businesses, create jobs, and help rebuild our nation.