Many of our state's largest companies were founded by immigrants. So why aren't we more welcoming?
After the French Revolution, Eleuthère Irénée du Pont de Nemours fled to America in 1800.
Two years later he founded a gunpowder plant in Delaware. Within a decade, the DuPont plant was the largest of its kind in the United States. DuPont added dynamite and nitroglycerine in 1880, guncotton in 1892, and smokeless powder in 1894. Today, DuPont is a $40 billion company that employs 70,000 people.
What has made this country great is its rich heritage of people coming together from all nations. Even though the country faces high unemployment, now is not the time to adopt a protectionist immigration strategy. We should use immigration to accelerate job creation, by attracting the best talent in the world, and making it easier for our companies to compete and grow.
The influx of individuals from around the world has provided the engine for our economic development. This is what has made us the most innovative, most prosperous nation on earth. As an illustration, a recent report from the Partnership for a New American Economy has found that more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children.
We know this well here in Minnesota because we have so many examples in front of our eyes, including our own company, Carlson, founded by Curtis L. Carlson, whose parents immigrated from Sweden; U.S. Bancorp (founded by Donald Macleay, Scotland); Thrivent Financial for Lutherans (founded by Albert Voecks, Germany); Medtronic (founded by Palmer Hermundslie, Norway); 3M (founded by John Dwan, Canada); Cargill (founded by William Wallace Cargill, Scotland); C.H. Robinson Worldwide (founded by Charles Henry Robinson, Ireland), and Hormel Foods (founded by George A. Hormel, Germany). These immigrants have created millions of American jobs.
Another recent study by the partnership found that every visa given to low-skilled workers in the hospitality industry creates on average more than 4.5 American jobs because these workers fill gaps that let companies grow. The same study found that every foreign graduate with an advanced degree from a U.S. university who stays and works in science, technology, engineering and math creates on average more than 2.5 American jobs.
On a related note close to my heart, my daughter has just graduated with honors from an Ivy League college. I could not be more proud. But, while I am amazed by her talent, she has just had to move back to France as her student visa was expiring. If the country was keen on winning the war for talent, shouldn't we be extending a warm permanent welcome to students like her?
We have to appreciate that imported talent does not necessarily displace local talent, just as keeping talent off the national shores does not help protect jobs here. As an example, the high-tech industry has a constant shortage of talent. Why wouldn't we want to have these jobs here, rather than outsourced to facilities in far-away countries?
Immigrants can help fill unfilled jobs. Even with high unemployment, the U.S. government estimates there are 3 million unfilled jobs, often as a result of a mismatch between available U.S. talent and the needs of our industries. Immigrants can also help meet temporary needs. This is especially true in our most seasonal industries (including agriculture and tourism).
The debate is certainly not new. Let's go back in time: 18th-century Europe saw the opposition between the views of Thomas Malthus and those of William Godwin and the Marquis de Condorcet. According to Malthus, sooner or later, population gets checked by famine and disease. In contrast, Godwin and Condorcet believed in the possibility of almost limitless improvement of society. So did Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose notions centered on the goodness of man and the liberty of citizens bound only by the social contract. It is the latter who inspired this country, not the former.
So what do we need to do? We should adopt a growth-oriented immigration strategy. Meaning, we should cultivate foreign students and encourage them to stay here. We should seek to attract more investors by being less restrictive with programs for immigrant investors such as the EB-5 program. We should expand temporary worker programs so that employers can hire immigrant workers when U.S. workers are unavailable, and provide solutions for companies that can't use existing H2B and H2A worker visa programs (for example, the dairy and nursery industries important to Minnesota). And we need to integrate employment verification systems so they are simple, accurate, affordable and accessible, especially for small businesses.
It is time to focus on recruiting and retaining talent that meets the needs of our companies, attracting the entrepreneurs who will help our economy grow, and providing opportunities for inspired, bright minds to thrive.