As both political parties remain hard-pressed to create jobs in a struggling economy, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg says lawmakers are missing a pain-free and lucrative opportunity right in front of their noses: immigration reform.
Speaking at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Wednesday, Bloomberg said members of both parties need to get serious about an immigration reform bill that could retain and attract high-skilled foreigners for the sake of the U.S. economy.
“Right now, the two parties, to the extent they talk about immigration reform at all, play to their base,” Bloomberg said. “Unfortunately, that’s where the national conversation ends … As the two sides are locked in a standoff over how to create jobs, immigration reform – based on our national economic needs – offers a unique opportunity to both of them. It does not require either party to walk away from [its] position on taxes or spending.”
Bloomberg called the current immigration system “national suicide.” He said it sends talented scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs back to their home countries, along with the jobs, ideas and cash they bring.
Bloomberg advocated dispensing more visas for economic and business reasons: Right now, family issues and humanitarian relief issues account for 85 percent of the Visas the U.S. gives out, as compared to 15 percent for economic reasons. Bloomberg also touted the idea of changing the laws to give foreign science and math students in the U.S. green cards upon receiving their degrees and to incentivize foreign entrepreneurs to emigrate to the U.S.; he would grant conditional visas to those who can prove they have the capital to start a new business. Then, once business owners have successfully created jobs, they would be offered green cards.
“In today’s global marketplace, we cannot afford to keep turning away those with skills that our country needs to grow and succeed,” he said, citing U.S. laws that don’t provide a clear path to citizenship for foreigners educated in the U.S. He compared this country’s reluctance to admit high-skilled immigrants with countries like China, Israel and Chile, which have programs that offer tax breaks and start-up capital to entrepreneurs who are educated overseas . “Turning these students out of the country is, to put it bluntly, the dumbest thing we could possibly do,” he said. “Other countries are bending over backwards to attract these students, and we’re helping them do it. We’ve become the laughingstock of the world with this policy.”
Bloomberg pointed to a June report from the coalition he heads, the Partnership for a New American Economy, which found that more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were created by an immigrant or the child of an immigrant. According to the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, immigrant entrepreneurs founded 25 percent of U.S. high-tech and engineering companies between 1995 and 2005. Immigrants — documented or not — contribute to the U.S. tax base, too. An April study by the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy found that undocumented immigrants paid $11.2 billion in taxes in 2010. Nearly half of all illegal immigrants pay income taxes, it estimated.
Groups that lobby to tighten borders aren’t buying Bloomberg’s argument, however. “The unfettered importation of foreign workers is tantamount to domestic outsourcing. It displaces American workers and drives down wages,” says Kristen Williamson, a spokeswoman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. “The emphasis the Big Business lobby places on attracting foreign labor, or ‘talent’ as they would describe it, is insulting to Americans, especially those currently unemployed.”
Many Democrats favor comprehensive immigration reform to grant legal citizenship to the nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. through an initiative called the DREAM Act, which is currently pending in Congress. Most Republicans generally oppose the DREAM Act, arguing the path to citizenship Democrats advocate rewards criminal behavior.