Posted on | August 6, 2014
Written by | Marilou Halvorsen
Every New Jersey food lover knows that our state is blessed with an abundance of excellent ethnic restaurants. In addition to great food, these local businesses create jobs, generate tax revenue and support the growth of our state economy. And many of them were founded by and are run by immigrants. The success of immigrant restaurant entrepreneurs in New Jersey is one of many reasons I am convinced Congress should pass immigration reform.
Immigrants have a long, proud history of entrepreneurism, both here in New Jersey and across the nation. First or second generation immigrants were behind the formation of 40% of all Fortune 500 companies. Modern tech giants Intel, Google and eBay all had immigrant founders. In New Jersey, major employers including Honeywell, Merck, Cognizant Technology Solutions and Goya Foods are all the result of hard work by immigrants or their children.
But current U.S. immigration policies make it increasingly difficult for other foreign-born entrepreneurs to bring their dreams to reality in America. Short-sighted visa allocations too strictly limit the number of applicants given entry permits, even when they have skills that would not only allow them to form new companies but also make existing American firms more competitive. Employers in fields from agriculture to restaurant and hospitality to high-tech struggle to find enough U.S. job applicants.
Other immigration policies are badly in need of a fix as well. The lack of a DREAM Act policy denies young people who have grown up in the U.S. the opportunity to finish their education and build careers. Brought into America by their parents as youngsters, our system punishes them for acts they didn’t commit,and punishes the rest of us by hindering economic growth.
Power of Productivity
We need the youth and vitality immigrants can bring to our labor force. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the effect smarter immigration policies would have on an aging American workforce would extend the life of Social Security by a full two years, adding $300 billion to the Social Security Trust Fund.
Implementing a plan to bring undocumented immigrants out of hiding and into our economy would also generate huge gains in terms of productivity and job creation. We don’t need amnesty for lawbreakers, but a simple adjustment to immigration policy that would give people who have broken immigration laws the chance to pay appropriate penalties and move on with their lives.
In New Jersey, it is estimated that a pathway to legal residency would create more than 17,000 new jobs and generate $1.2 billion in Gross State Product by 2020.
The current political climate has made passing immigration reform somewhat tougher, but it has not made it any less necessary or less popular—a clear majority of the American people still supports immigration reform. The members of the House of Representatives need to do likewise.