The following is an op-ed written by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg that appeared in the Wall Street Journal on May 2, 2011. Learn more about Mayor Bloomberg's bi-partisan coalition of business leaders and mayors at www.RenewOurEconomy.org.
Last month, President Obama convened a diverse group of business executives, mayors, law enforcement leaders, ministers and advocates at the White House to discuss a problem that threatens America's economic future—our broken immigration system.
We've tried before to fix it. President George W. Bush made comprehensive immigration reform a major legislative priority during his second term. Congressional leaders from both parties, including Sens. Ted Kennedy and John McCain, worked tirelessly to pass legislation. But the bill could not garner the required votes. Nor could a much narrower bill, the Dream Act, which would have granted legal status to the children of immigrants who enroll in college or the military.
These defeats have led to a conventional wisdom in Washington that bipartisan immigration reform is impossible. But a new consensus on immigration reform has emerged in the business community that could break the logjam and provide a much-needed jolt to our economy. The idea is simple: Reform the way we attract and keep talented and hard-working people from abroad to better promote economic growth.
In the global economy, the countries that attract the world's best, brightest and hardest-working will grow and succeed. Those that refuse them entry will not. America has long understood this. We would not have become a global superpower without opening our doors to immigrants—and we cannot long remain one without continuing that practice. Smart, self-motivated immigrants spur the innovations and create the jobs our economy needs to thrive. Between 1995 and 2005, for example, 25% of high-tech startups in the U.S. had at least one immigrant as a key founder. Those companies alone have created 450,000 jobs—with the vast majority of them going to Americans.
Our global competitors understand how crucial immigrants are to economic growth. They roll out the red carpet for entrepreneurs; we have no entrepreneur visa. They heavily recruit our advanced-degree students; we educate them and send them home. They woo the engineers, scientists and other skilled professionals who invent new products, launch product lines, and develop the technology of tomorrow; we erect arbitrary, senseless and bureaucratic barriers to recruitment. And we do all this even as our unemployment rate hovers around 9%.
Although each party claims to have the solution to our country's economic woes, neither has embraced a job-creation strategy based on immigration reform, which would not add a penny to the national debt. To spur them into action, a bipartisan coalition of business leaders and mayors has joined together to make the case that visa reform is an economic imperative. In nine months the Partnership for a New American Economy has grown to more than 200 members, including companies that together employ more than 3.5 million people.
We believe in the need to secure our borders, make it possible to hold businesses accountable for verifying the status of workers, address the reality that 11 million people are here illegally and cannot be deported en masse—and increase lawful opportunities for those who want to come to this country and contribute to our prosperity. Nevertheless, our nation cannot afford to wait for Washington to get its act together and pass comprehensive immigration reform. There is too much at stake. Our economy demands that we take immediate action on the most urgent—and politically attainable—reform: making it easier for job creators to come and stay here.
Creating a visa for entrepreneurs who already have funding to start their businesses will lead directly and immediately to American jobs. Visa reforms to improve temporary and permanent pathways for companies to fill the current shortages of engineers, scientists and other specialists—whose annual visa caps are often exhausted within days of becoming available—will spur growth at existing U.S. companies.
Providing visas to the brightest foreign graduates of our universities will allow our economy to reap the rewards of their work. At the same time, allowing immigrants who succeed in college, or serve in our military, the chance to pursue a career and build their lives here legally will strengthen the long-term health of the American economy.
Finally, developing a reliable way for employers to hire guest workers—who grow the nation's food, support our $1.3 trillion tourism industry, and fill seasonal gaps across industries—will help support U.S. businesses and create additional, better-paying American jobs.
Those who focus on where the parties differ on immigration, rather than where they both agree, have paralyzed the debate in Washington for far too long. Despite this deadlock, there is an opportunity for both parties to seize upon the economics of immigration reform and focus on what all Americans agree we need: more jobs. Leaders of both parties talk about creating jobs, but they are ignoring the voices of business leaders who can actually create them—if only Congress would give them the tools.
Mr. Bloomberg, an independent, is mayor of New York City.