Bernard P Wolfsdorf, the leading practitioner in our research, and Mark Hertel of Wolfsdorf Rosenthal explore the significance of immigration lawyers in today's increasingly globalised and interdependent world:
"Immigration lawyers have a key role to play in resolving the conflict between narrow-minded territorialism and a global world of ideas advancing at lightning speed."
Fortress Europe cannot contain the world’s wealth, nor can the American Dream be fulfilled in one Land of Opportunity alone. The increasing interdependence of all economic activity makes it impossible to understand – much less define rational policy regarding – any particular local, regional, or national economy without seeing it in the context of the global economy.
GLOBAL WEALTH AT AN ALL-TIME HIGH
Global wealth is greater now than at any previous time in history. While total wealth in the United States and Europe has grown since 2000, the wealth of emerging economies has grown much faster. In fact, the proportion of the world’s wealth that comes from emerging economies has doubled since 2000. Not only that, the total wealth growth in emerging economies comes mostly from new wealth creation, whereas wealth growth in mature economies comes mostly from appreciation of existing assets. Technology has not only connected economies, it has contributed directly to tremendous global wealth production. The technology industry drives the growth of emerging markets, since technology companies can be started with a relatively small initial investment in labour, materials and cash.
If current trends continue, the Asia-Pacific region will surpass North America as the wealthiest region in the world in the next five years, with total wealth of $48.1 trillion (North America’s total wealth is projected to rise to just $48 trillion in the same period). It is reported that China alone presently has 1.3 million millionaires, although since China still appears to be primarily a cash economy, the actual number may be double that. It is no surprise, then, that the American EB-5 Immigrant Investor Programme saw a 94 per cent increase in petitions filed in 2011 and a 58 per cent increase in petitions filed in 2012.
WITH A GLOBAL ECONOMY COMES GLOBAL MIGRATION
To relate effectively to the growing cast of characters on the global economic stage, the United States must welcome the talents and investments of those from around the globe who still look to America as the Land of Opportunity. As President Obama recently said in his State of the Union Address, “When people come here to fulfill their dreams – to study, invent, and contribute to our culture – they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everyone.”
EUROPE IN NEED OF IMMIGRATION REFORM
The challenges faced by the United States in formulating immigration policies that will enable it to continue to be a strong player in the global economy are paralleled in Europe, confirming the need for reform. The American tendency toward protectionism is paralleled in the notion of “fortress Europe” among the general public, policymakers and potential immigrants to Europe. As in the United States, Europe’s labour market faces a shortage of skilled workers. Empirical studies find that in Europe as in the United States, the effects of economic immigration, especially of skilled workers, are positive, not negative. Although attracting skilled immigrant workers will be essential for Europe as the economy becomes ever more globally interconnected, public discourse and public policy on immigration in Europe lacks a coherent direction. The enlargement of the European Union and ongoing economic turmoil in Europe have fanned anti-immigrant rhetoric, and even violence against immigrants in Europe. Though Europe has a clear economic need for skilled immigrants, the competing voices at national and European Union levels make the formation and implementation of a coherent policy difficult. Recently, there have been a few positive developments in European policies toward skilled immigrants, such as the 2009 introduction of the Blue Card, which enables high-skilled non-EU citizens admitted to work in one EU country to live and work in other EU countries as well. But highly skilled immigrants to Europe face a patchwork of national policies, requiring temporary permits granted at the discretion of immigration officials, and thus an uncertain future in their would-be adopted homes.
USA’S PROTECTIONIST IMMIGRATION POLICY IS COUNTERPRODUCTIVE
In the United States, restrictive policies on legal immigration for highly skilled foreign workers and wealthy foreign investors have hindered recovery from the ongoing economic recession by limiting the ability of the US to participate in the rise of the global economy. The rationale behind such policies appears to be to protect jobs for American workers or, more cynically, to win re-election for the legislators who put such policies in place by appealing to the fears of their constituents. Objectively, however, such policies hurt the United States economy and make it a weaker player in the global economy.
The fear that foreign nationals “take away jobs from American workers” is based on the unfounded assumption that the number of jobs in the economy is fixed. In fact, this number is limited only by the number of capable individuals in the economy willing and able to work to meet economic demand. This has been exemplified in the US economy in recent years by the tremendous creation of jobs following the rise of technology companies like Qualcomm, Google, Amazon, Apple, Cisco, Oracle and Microsoft.
Immigrants working and investing in the United States actually create new jobs and improve the wages of US workers. This is especially clear with respect to highly skilled immigrant workers, a group whose positive impact on the US economy has been extensively studied and demonstrated. In the United States, highly skilled occupations, such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) occupations have long been absorbing more professionals than are available within the United States – and more than the US education system produces. Misguided protectionist immigration policies, such as arbitrary limits on the numbers of H-1B visas and employment-based green cards available for workers in skilled occupations, prevent the United States from maximising the valuable contributions of skilled workers, such as STEM workers, and push them to make their contributions elsewhere in the global economy. This is economically counterproductive for the United States, since skilled professionals create jobs through their work rather than displacing native workers.
Analysis of data from the US Census and the US Department of Education shows that foreign-born STEM workers bring more to America than simply their own talents and innovative ideas: they actually create jobs without displacing, or undercutting wages for, American-born workers. In STEM fields, where there is a much higher proportion of foreign-national workers than in other fields, there is full employment for American STEM workers. In fact, in many STEM occupations unemployment is near zero, suggesting that the economy could absorb more professionals with advanced degrees in those fields. Furthermore, foreign-born STEM workers do not undercut compensation rates for American workers in their fields. In fact, foreign-born STEM workers actually earn, on average, somewhat more than their American counterparts: they are not the cheap alternative source of labour that many fear. The skill and earning levels of H-1B workers overall are no lower, and in some occupations may even be higher, than those of their US-born counterparts. The US demand for highly skilled workers is so high that even the inflow of H-1B workers cannot meet it.
These truths – that foreign STEM workers do not displace American workers, nor do they lower wages – sit alongside the fact that they actually create jobs. It has been shown that for each foreign-born student who graduates from a US university with a STEM degree and who remains in the US to work in his or her field, 2.62 jobs are created in the US economy.
HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?
How is it possible for the US economy to continue to absorb thousands of foreign-born STEM workers, while STEM fields continue to offer high (and rising) rates of compensation for all workers in them? Demand for STEM talent in non-STEM fields has grown dramatically. For example, a wide range of industries, including increasingly technology-driven industries like manufacturing, mining, and utilities and transportation, and fast-growing industries like professional and business services and healthcare are absorbing high-skilled workers with STEM education and experience. As STEM talent is diverted into non-STEM fields, American workers are more likely than foreign-born workers to pursue opportunities beyond traditional STEM fields. US workers with STEM backgrounds have access to a growing number of prestigious and high-paying professional opportunities outside STEM fields, such as management. Such opportunities often offer US workers greater opportunities to pursue their personal work interests and values, and often even offer superior earnings over a lifetime, even relative to traditional STEM occupations, which generally offer high compensation. As US workers with STEM education and experience have dispersed into non-STEM occupations that draw on their cognitive skills, the result has been a shortage of workers in the economy with STEM competencies.
Immigrant entrepreneurs: vital to the American economy
Eighteen per cent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants; more than 40 per cent are founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants. The newest Fortune 500 companies are even more likely to have been founded by an immigrant. Fortune 500 companies generate revenues equivalent to 73 per cent of American GDP, and “form the global economy’s center of gravity”, according to a 2011 report by the Partnership for a New American Economy. The report goes on to warn, “In the global economy, America’s economic dominance is far from assured.” While China and India are increasingly welcoming environments for business, and other countries like the UK, Canada and Australia are taking bold measures to welcome immigrant investors and entrepreneurs, “the American immigration system continues to raise barriers to these individuals, driving away the bright foreign students who attend our universities and keeping out the aspiring businesspeople who would otherwise come here.”
According to a 2007 paper titled “America’s New Immigrant Entrepreneurs”, in more than 25 per cent of engineering and technology companies founded in the US between 1995 and 2005, “at least one key founder was foreign born”, and “these immigrant-founded companies produced $52 billion in sales and employed 450,000 workers in 2005.”
The economic importance of immigrant-founded startup companies has been increasing dramatically, with just 20 per cent of venture-funded startups with an initial public offering before 1 January 2006 having at least one immigrant founder, while 33 per cent of such companies with IPOs between 2006 and 2012 had an immigrant founder. These companies include prominent names like Facebook, LinkedIn and Zipcar, and have an extraordinary total market capitalisation of $900 billion.
Long-term, the shortage of US workers with STEM education and experience must be addressed by far-reaching changes in the US education system to produce the skilled workers demanded by the 21st century economy. Highly skilled immigration policy can even be directed not only to filling current labour needs, but also to funding educational reform in the US.
Immigration lawyers’ collective knowledge: the key to rational reform
Globalisation, rapidly accelerating now through technology, has the potential to eradicate poverty and universally increase human understanding and material security. One major obstacle slowing these advances is the barriers erected by governments in the form of restrictive and counterproductive immigration laws. While a world of open borders remains a utopian dream, not a realistic policy goal, it is nonetheless disturbing that the USA continues to struggle to enact comprehensive immigration reform. Immigration laws can be cruel, and economic pressures have provoked increasing harshness in governments and officials. Those unfamiliar with the Kafkaesque systems and processes that immigration lawyers navigate daily are always shocked to discover the absurd reality: business plans delayed while key players await visas; a lawful permanent resident for 20 years with a US-citizen wife and three US-citizen children, deported for a decades-old misdemeanor conviction; refusal to expedite visa interviews to bury a relative, on the basis that the relative is already dead.
The collective knowledge of immigration lawyers is the key to awakening from such nightmares! Global migration benefits all, as bold individuals who leave the familiarity of their home environments bring benefits and make great contributions.
Many of the day-to-day responsibilities of immigration lawyers may appear mundane. However, our vast collective experience gives us the knowledge and ability to challenge irrational immigration restrictions wherever they arise. Immigration lawyers have a key role to play in resolving the conflict between narrow-minded territorialism and a global world of ideas advancing at lightning speed.