The following are Mayor Bloomberg’s remarks as delivered at the Immigration and American Competitiveness Conference sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Partnership for a New American Economy. Mayor Bloomberg is Co-Chair of the Partnership for a New American Economy.
”Three Septembers ago, as the global banking industry melt down continued, our nation faced really the prospect of economic collapse. Thankfully, Congress and the then Bush Administration acted quickly and decisively to shore up the financial industry. And I’ve always thought that Hank Paulson, Bob Steel and Bernanke and Tim Geithner really saved this country and we owe them a great debt of gratitude. People say we shouldn’t have done TARP. Those people just don’t understand what would have happened to our country and how dangerous we came to really a meltdown that would have damaged our economy for many years into the future.
“In the two years that followed, Congress did pass and President Obama signed a $800 billion stimulus package; they rescued the auto industry from bankruptcy; they passed financial reform legislation; and they did extend the Bush-era tax cuts.
“I know all of us have different opinions of these actions, and I would bet that a lot of you, like me, think that some were more helpful than others. But as we approach the end of 2011, two things really are very clear: First, the American economy remains in very serious trouble, with more and more concern that we are headed into a double-dip recession. And second, I think it’s fair to say more of the same just is not going to do the trick to keep us out of that.
“Whatever you may think of the President’s Jobs Plan – and I give him credit for at least putting forward a concrete agenda. It’s easy to talk, but I’ve always said, ‘Okay, what would you do?’ and the President’s told us what he would do. And whatever you think of the Republican agenda – and they have put forward some things that whether you agree with them or not are concrete – I think it is clear that we can’t just spend our way out of this crisis, nor can we cut our way out without doing both.
“We have to grow our way out – and to do that, we need a new approach. And that’s what I’m here to talk about today, because we really need an approach that allows business to grow, that expands our markets overseas, that spurs innovation, that increases the number of entrepreneurs who start businesses here, and that creates jobs for Americans on every rung of the economic ladder.
“Now, what if I were to tell you that there’s a way we could do all of those things at no cost to the taxpayers. Not one penny. Well I think if told you that in the process we could raise revenue and we could use either that revenue to pay for tax cuts or to pay for essential services like national defense, I suspect all of you would say, ‘Great, what are we waiting for?’
“And I think that’s really the question that we’re here today to try to answer. Because the truth is we can do all of that, and we can do it in a way that both parties can support – if we have an open and honest conversation about immigration reform based on economics rather than anything else.
“Right now, the two parties – to the extent they talk at all about immigration – play to their base. Democrats say we need comprehensive immigration reform – and I agree we do. Republicans say we need to tighten the border – and I agree with that as well. But unfortunately that is where the national conversation ends.
“Now, if we could just get the two sides to talk with each other – instead of past each other – I believe we could see a lot more agreement than disagreement, and I believe we could pass a bill that would do more to strengthen the economy than anything that is being discussed in Washington today.
“That’s why we’re here this morning, to talk about a middle ground that exists and how both parties can seize upon it.
“We all know from our Partnership for a New American Economy, which is the name of this organization that we have formed of business leaders and mayors from across the country, there is an emerging consensus between Democratic and Republican mayors and business leaders on how to tackle immigration reform. And it boils down to a saying that once again will define a presidential election: It is the economy, stupid.
“As the two parties are locked in a stand-off over how to create jobs, immigration reform based on our national economic needs offers a unique opportunity, I think, to both of them. It does not require either party to walk away from its position on taxes or spending.
“Instead, the two parties could produce legislation that is consistent with their political principles, that reflects sound economics, that would put thousands of Americans back to work and that would be popular with voters back home.
“And today, I’d like to talk with you about four ideas that I think should form the basis of that legislation. They are not a panacea – there is no such thing. But there is no doubt they would strengthen our economy, and put us on track to create the jobs that our country needs.
“First, both Democratic and Republican business leaders and mayors agree that our visa distribution should be better aligned with our economic needs. Every year, we admit more than one million new permanent residents. But 85 percent of the visas we hand out are for those seeking family re-unification or refuge from harm, while only 15 percent of visas are given for economic reasons. And the real number is probably something more like seven percent, because many bring their spouses and children.
“There is no question that family reunification and humanitarian relief are vitally important. They reflect the values that have long sustained our country. But immigrants have done even more than shape our culture; they have built our economy. And we need them to help us continue building it, particularly at this point in our history.
“Allocating only 15 percent of visas based on economics is just terrible public policy – and it really is holding our economy back. In today’s global marketplace, we cannot afford to keep turning away those with skills that our country needs to grow and to succeed. It is sabotaging our own economy. I’ve called it national suicide – and I think it really is.
“That’s why I think we should dramatically expand the numbers of green cards available for the best of the best – the highest-skilled workers we need to join the U.S. economy permanently. These high-skill workers will not only help create thousands of jobs, they’ll also give us knowledge of foreign markets that will help U.S. businesses increase their exports.
“One study found that a one percent increase in immigrants working in managerial and professional jobs leads to a three percent increase in U.S. exports to their home country. And you can just take the example of Caterpillar, the company famous for its bulldozers and other heavy equipment. Fully 60 percent of Caterpillar sales are international. But to design the bulldozer that will sell in China, Caterpillar has to know how the Chinese approach construction and infrastructure – and having a few Chinese engineers in senior positions goes a long way to fulfilling that need and making sure that their products are saleable overseas, and competitive.
“The second idea that both Democratic and Republican business leaders and mayors agree on is that foreign students who are earning advanced degrees in technical fields from our universities should be eligible to work here permanently.
“Foreign students account for nearly two-thirds of those who earn a computer-science or engineering Ph.D. from a U.S. institution – two-thirds. These are the individuals who make the discoveries and innovations that propel business and create jobs for Americans. And they’re already here on our soil.
“But when they graduate, our immigration system has no permanent path designed for them. After a brief grace period to stay and work, our laws allow most of them only cumbersome temporary visas and a long, uncertain path to a green card, limited by a tangle of restrictive rules and quotas.
“Turning these students out of the country is, to put it bluntly, about the dumbest thing that we could possibly do. Other countries are bending over backwards to attract these students – and we’re helping them to do it. We’ve become the laughing stock of the world with this policy. The fact is: there is no such thing as too many engineers, too many scientists, or too many technological innovators. We need all of them in this country.
“Foreign students who earn advanced degrees from a U.S. university in science, technology, engineering, or math – what has come to be called the ‘STEM’ fields – should be able to remain and work indefinitely after graduation. Let’s offer them green cards when they finish their degrees, and then we can get down to the real business of convincing them to stay because that’s not a foregone conclusion either. We are in competition with the rest of the world for the best and the brightest. We have to make sure that they and their families want to stay here. And unfortunately or fortunately, the truth of the matter is there are lots of alternatives for people in this day and age.
“The third key idea that both Democratic and Republican business leaders and mayors agree on is that we should stop turning away so many entrepreneurs who want to come here and start businesses.
“These businesses will hire American workers, and immigrants are more than twice as likely as those born in America to start a new company – and a recent study shows that U.S. job creation in the last 30 years is entirely attributable to startup companies.
“One-quarter of U.S. engineering and technology companies started during the dot-com boom had a foreign-born founder; 40 percent of all venture-backed, high-tech companies successful enough to conduct a public stock offering had an immigrant founder. And out of last year’s Fortune 500, including many longstanding giants of American business, more than 40 percent were founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants.
“But as with foreign students, our immigration system has no real path for foreign entrepreneurs, even if they have a bright business idea that has already attracted investors. So these entrepreneurs are finding other countries that are smart enough to take them and their new businesses. And to double the pain, U.S. capital – capital that could have seeded economic growth here at home – disappears overseas with them.
“Let me tell you a story – a story of just one entrepreneur who wanted to grow in the United States. It’s about a Canadian named Eric Diep.
“He joined the long parade of software developers who have gone to Silicon Valley seeking opportunity and capital. He found success with an online quiz program that quickly attracted over a million users – and also attracted the interest of U.S. investors. They wanted Diep to start a company to sell the program. But Diep couldn’t get a visa to stay in the U.S, and his ability to build a company – a company that could have created U.S. jobs – got him nowhere with our immigration system. So his investors gave up. The opportunity passed. And Diep went home to Canada.
“It’s no surprise what happened with Diep’s next idea. He and two other Canadians had creative ideas for a business selling video-games to play on smart-phones. Diep was able to convince U.S. investors to get on board. But this time, his partners have chosen to grow their company in Vancouver, Canada, where they have less trouble getting visas for their employees. And, of course, over the border to Canada went U.S. capital and the jobs that could have been created in the United States.
“This is just craziness – but we can stop it by offering a conditional visa to immigrants who have capital to back their business ventures. If their new company successfully creates jobs for American workers, the entrepreneur would receive a green card to stay and grow the business into the future.
“America already has some of the most enterprising individuals on Earth, but entrepreneurs are like engineering Ph.D.’s and computer scientists: You just can’t have enough of them, particularly when we have an enormous number of people unemployed in this country. People say, ‘Why bring more immigrants into this country when you have unemployed?’ Because that’s the solution to the unemployment problem in this country – more jobs being created by more businesses.
“Fourth, and finally, both Democratic and Republican business leaders and mayors agree that we should expand and streamline our existing tools for attracting talent to our country.
“Temporary visas like the H-1B program help fill critical gaps in our workforce, but the numbers are too few and the filing process too long and unpredictable. In many years, the visas have been exhausted in mere days, and even in the midst of the national recession, the visas have run out before the end of the year for which they’re authorized. This leads to critical shortfalls not only in the software industry, but also in fields like engineering, electronics, pharmaceuticals, medical research, and aerospace. This is just absurd to deny American companies access to the workers they need.
“Now the government doesn’t know how many skilled workers are needed each year –only the market does. So let the markets work. And you can do that by eliminating the cap on H-1B visas.
“Another arbitrary cap we should eliminate at the same time is the one that limits employment green-cards by country. Right now, Iceland gets the same quota as India. It just makes no sense. I have nothing against Iceland, but just think about where the next engineers and the entrepreneurs are going to come from. We’ll get some from Iceland, and we’d love to have them come here. But just because of size, you’re much more likely to get an awful lot from India. This just makes no sense.
“Why should we care what country a skilled immigrant comes from? These quotas mean that high-skill employees from China and India can face a wait of up to ten years for a green card – and during that time, they are prohibited from getting a promotion or taking a new job. No wonder why many return home.
“That’s a loss not only for American companies that invest in them, but for our entire economy – because they return home to help our competitors, these other countries. Think about it this way, the Yankees sending C.C. Sabathia home to pitch for the San Francisco Giants. Just in case anybody’s interested, if anybody is here from San Francisco, it’s not going to happen. And the Yankees will go all the way and win the World Series, but you heard it here first just so you know. I didn’t mean to take all the fun out of it in anticipation and worry, but it’s going to happen.
“Each of the four steps that I’ve just outlined would help the U.S. economy and the American worker. Each would create more jobs. And if we don’t take them, we not only will be undermining our economy – we are putting our nation’s future at risk.
“Just look at what other countries are doing to attract the people that we are turning away. In China, the government offers tax breaks, cheap loans, and start-up capital to Chinese citizens who are educated overseas and then return to start a business. China has also launched what it calls the ‘Thousand Talents Program,’ a campaign to lure back top Chinese scientists with cash and well-funded laboratories.
“In Israel, the government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a program to attract thousands of Israeli ex-pats, particularly scientists, researchers, and doctors, by offering them tax breaks, health insurance, and free tuition for further education.
“In Chile, the government is seeking entrepreneurs of any background, Chilean or otherwise. A pilot program for the founders of new technology companies there offers startup capital, free office space, reduced red tape, and access to mentors.
“And many of our English-speaking competitors – from Canada and the U.K. to Australia and New Zealand – have visa programs designed to attract entrepreneurs who come to create jobs. All these countries know that smart visa policies alone can’t guarantee that their economies will successfully weather every economic storm. But they do know that there’s no chance they’ll stay competitive unless they can attract top talent from around the world, and that certainly goes for the United States.
“Now, with too few jobs to go around today, as I said before, why should we let people from overseas compete for slots that could go to U.S. workers? I just want to repeat the real facts here.
“As the data clearly show, immigrants don’t take away jobs; they make jobs – and that is especially true for high-skilled immigrants. For example, one study has shown that for every H-1B position, U.S. technology companies increase their employment by five workers.
“And it’s not that the U.S. workforce doesn’t already have many extraordinary individuals, but the global economy is changing everything. People and resources are moving more freely than ever before. Offices and factories can increasingly do the same work anywhere. And information technology is creating unprecedented cross-border opportunities.
“And as a result, America no longer is the inevitable crossroads for enterprise and innovation. Countries from Asia to South America now beckon with opportunity. So the United States simply has to compete like never before for talent. That’s a competition we can win if we work at it – and we must win if we are going to remain the world’s strongest economy, and a beacon of hope for people around the world.
“America has always been that beacon. Exactly one month from today, New York City and the entire country will mark the 125th anniversary of America’s greatest monument, the Statue of Liberty. Since 1886, Lady Liberty’s torch has brought light to the darkest corners of the earth, beckoning to our shores all those ‘yearning to breathe free.’
“Yet it is not Lady Liberty’s torch or her crown or her broken chains that have inspired so much awe: it is her location.
“The power of her symbol lies in the reality of New York City as a gateway – a golden door – to the land of opportunity that is the United States of America. That reality is our history. But it also must be our future.
“And yet today, we are saying to those who dream of becoming Americans, who dream of coming here to work and start businesses: We don’t need you. We don’t need your sweat or your skills. We don’t need your ideas or your innovations. But nothing – nothing – could be further from the truth.
“We desperately need immigrants who want to come here to work, who have the skills our companies need to succeed. The American dream cannot survive if we keep telling the dreamers to go elsewhere.
“Today, we may have turned away the next Albert Einstein or Sergey Brin. Tomorrow, we may turn away the next Levi Strauss or Oscar de la Renta.
“And we certainly will be turning away many of the people who – like my ancestors and no doubt many of yours – came to this country with almost nothing, except one thing: A desire to work – and work and work and work – to build a better life for themselves and their families.
“The debate here in Washington on how to create jobs will not be ending any time soon. And in all likelihood, the gridlock will not be broken unless the two parties find a way to align their political interests. That’s hard to do when each has staked out such entrenched positions.
“But immigration reform offers both parties a chance to champion a cause that is vitally important to American companies. It offers both parties a chance to show entrepreneurs and business leaders that they understand the needs of the American economy. And it offers both parties a chance to show the American people that, when it comes to immigration reform, they are in favor of policies that will help American workers – and help our country get moving again.
“This is a chance we can’t afford to miss, and it’s up to us – all of us – to convince Congress to seize that chance. So thank you, and let’s get together and make this happen. Your future, your children, and grandchildren’s future depends on us getting this done. And I cannot urge you enough to call your Congressman or Congresswoman, call your Senator and say, ‘We just have to have this. Enough with the posturing, there’s a time for a political campaign, but there’s also a time to save America.’
“Now, I’ve been working with my Senators in New York – particularly Chuck Schumer, who understands the issue I think – and I think there are many others – Lindsey Graham, and others in this country – who do as well. But you’ve got to call your Senator, your Congressperson, and say, ‘This is something that just cannot be consumed by partisan politics. It is not something that can wait for the next election. This is about keeping America the superpower, the greatest country in the world, the place where our ancestors came and where our future has to come.
"Thank you very much."