As time grows short for the current Congress to pass much needed immigration reform legislation, I feel it is important for all of us to join in the recognition of June as Immigrant Heritage Month. When we reflect on the countless contributions — past and present — immigrants have made to our nation it becomes very clear that fixing our broken immigration system, to perpetuate this key support for our society and economy, should be one of our top national priorities.
I am an immigrant to the United States, coming here over 30 years ago as a graduate student and remaining to pursue a career in pharmaceutical research. Today I am a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada, a former elected official in Ann Arbor, and serve as the president and CEO of the Michigan Biosciences Industry Association, working to expand growth and employment in this significant sector of our state economy.
The Michigan bio-industry is rife with other people similar to myself — foreign-born scientists, researchers, and entrepreneurs who have come to pursue their American dreams, and have created jobs, innovated new products, and made American companies more competitive in the process. Many other industries are the same. Any business that has a high-tech component welcomes the best and brightest minds available; the countries where they happened to have been born is of little consequence.
Unfortunately, our federal immigration policies do not do an acceptable job of making those valuable workers and innovators available to American employers.
Our outdated visa system turns away more high-skill immigrants than it accepts, including those who have been educated at U.S. colleges and universities. We train them for success in tech-related fields, and then forbid them to achieve that success in America, even though American tech companies struggle to fill open positions and qualified foreign-born applicants are eager to stay here and build their careers.
This is an expensive mistake, diminishing productivity and hindering job creation. Tech workers tend to make higher salaries and generate more peripheral employment in both the high-tech sector and the general economy. The multiplier effect for tech jobs — the number of other jobs each job in high-tech supports — is estimated to be about 4.3 to 1. In traditional manufacturing, that ratio is only 1.4 to 1.
A new study conducted by the Partnership for a New American Economy examined the damage done to urban economies by insufficient visa allocations for tech workers. It estimated that, by 2009-2010, visa denials cost the city of Detroit as many as 2,244 jobs for college-educated, U.S.-born workers and a staggering 12,750 jobs for U.S. workers without a bachelor’s degree.
With so many Michigan workers still struggling to find family wage jobs, turning away that kind of potential employment is simply unacceptable.
Like most Americans who have chosen to call the United States home, I am deeply appreciative and proud of our nation. But at the same time I am also very proud of my immigrant heritage and welcome the opportunity to celebrate it this month. I can think of no better way to honor that heritage, and contribute to America’s future, than by urging Congress to pass the immigration reform measures that will protect our security and economy.
Stephen Rapundalo is president and CEO of MichBio.