The current debate over immigration, and the inertia over developing a sound guest worker policy that dragged during the previous two presidential administrations, has ignored the fundamental truth about the U.S. economy: Immigration and innovation together is the foundation of growth.
Immigrants come to America, where they drive innovation. And if your definition of innovation casts a wide net, that immigration varies from cutting-edge companies in Silicon Valley, to the revitalized communities that keep appearing in the Rust Belt. “Immigration is at the heart of U.S. competitiveness,” wrote Mohamed Ali, who arrived to the U.S. from Guyana in 1981 and is now CEO of Carbonite, a data protection and storage company based in Boston.
The good news is that more CEOs are speaking out on immigration and how it benefits their companies and the economy. And these are not just leaders of tech companies, the complaints of which are often dismissed as their companies are often reliant on the H1-B visa program, long a target of President Donald Trump and his supporters. The problem, however, is that too many CEOs are willing to score points with the president as they announce new job increases in his presence – even though many of these new hiring decisions were made long before he moved into the White House.
Nevertheless, the din is becoming louder. Take Indra Nooyi, the CEO of PepsiCo, who was among many leaders recently recognized by the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations (NECO), a group that seeks to promote respect for immigrants and takes part in the upkeep of Ellis Island. Nooyi is an advisor to the Trump White House, but like many business leaders has been boxed in by the administration by the tenor of its immigration policies. Upon receiving her NECO award, Nooyi reportedly said:
“All of us are equal and all of us have the right to reach for our dreams. That’s the promise that brought waves of immigrants to our shores in search of opportunity, from the earliest days of the republic to today. And that’s the promise that brought me and my husband here so many decades ago.”
And last week, Randall Stephenson, the chairman and CEO of AT&T, told an audience that immigration is “vital” to ensuring the U.S. still has a vibrant middle class. “If you have a (U.S.) population that is slow-growth, you have to have a vibrant population of immigrants,” he said, explaining that the skilled labor they bring to the U.S. helps the country maintain its competitive advantage.
Such words are only the beginning, but they are important. Many Americans have a skepticism of Wall Street, but they are often receptive to listening to business leaders, as they often embody what is known as the American Dream. More CEOs need to highlight the stubborn facts of the U.S. economy – that automation is the biggest killer of jobs, and that immigrants who move to this country are critical in investing in ideas that quite often turn out into new jobs for Americans.
Image credit: Christian Rondeau/Flickr
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.