Last night’s State of the Union (SOTU) Address was packed with policy ideas and key issues that President Obama hopes to work on in his second term. There was a renewed focus on job creation and economic growth. Immigration reform, among other pro-growth policies, was singled out as one way to achieve both these objectives. The link between immigration reform and economic revitalization is the reason that fixing our broken immigration system is one of the tech sector’s highest priorities.
In his response to the President’s speech, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida also raised the importance of immigration. Both men reinforced many of the themes and ideas that we have heard in recent weeks from a growing bipartisan chorus of policymakers. Obama stressed that, “…real reform means fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods and attract the highly skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy.” Rubio echoed these comments: “We can also help our economy grow if we have a legal immigration system that allows us to attract and assimilate the world’s best and brightest.” Their remarks come against a backdrop where members from both the House and Senate, Republican and Democrat, have spoken of their general support for reforming our immigration system, unveiled shared principles for reform, or even introduced legislation to fix specific problems, such as the massive backlog for green cards.
Recent studies and statistics have bolstered the economic case for immigration reform, especially when it comes to skilled immigration. We now know that highly-skilled immigrants are 30% more likely to open a new business than U.S.-born Americans, and technology companies hire on average five to seven additional workers for every high-skilled immigrant hired. Furthermore, immigrants and their children founded 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies, and high-skilled immigrants pay an average of $22,500 in state and federal taxes per year. Thankfully, a group of legislators have taken notice of the contribution by introducing the Immigration Innovation, or I-Squared Act at the end of last month. This bill seeks to take an outdated immigration system largely written in 1990 and update it to fit a U.S. economy that is significantly larger and more dependent on a highly skilled workforce than it was when Congress last made major changes in our legal immigration laws. This bill should be a key part of any comprehensive immigration reform package developed and considered in the Senate.
Last night, President Obama and Senator Rubio spoke of how policy leaders could work together for the benefit of the nation’s economy now and in the years to come. Continued bipartisanship on immigration reform, coupled with an emphasis on the economic imperative for its enactment, will go a long way to help put last night’s speeches into action.