Making a case for immigrants and innovation

Economics editor Chris Farrell


Bill Radke: Michigan's Attorney General has filed a legal brief on behalf of nine states supporting Arizona's strict immigration law. The White House has filed suit to block Arizona's law, saying immigration is a federal issue. Marketplace's economics editor Chris Farrell says the debates over amnesty and border security are missing an important point. Good morning Chris.

Chris Farrell: Good morning, Bill.

Radke: You think that what we need is more immigrants.

Farrell: Look Bill: With all the heated rhetoric about illegals and amnesty, border security, racial profiling, one aspect of immigration isn't getting enough attention: it is the job-creating potential of immigrant entrepreneurs.

Radke: Well I think most people would say entrepreneurship, it's a good thing in this country. How big a role, though, do immigrants really play in that area?

Farrell: Well we all know the importance that immigrants have had in Silicon Valley writ large, right? So just one number: a quarter of engineering and technology companies that were started in the U.S. from 1995 to 2005, you know, a quarter of them had at least one founder that was foreign-born.

Radke: Well Chris, is the anti-immigration sentiment a reaction to entrepreneurs, or is it more about uneducated, undocumented workers sneaking in?

Farrell: Well it's really rationed against undocumented, uneducated workers, you're absolutely right. But the problem is, in terms of the backlash that's going on against illegal immigrants, it's becoming against all outsiders. And you know, we live in a global economy where there's a lot of competition for brain power and entrepreneurial hustle. So what I worry about is in fast-growing emerging markets, rather than going to university here and then staying here and creating a company, you're going to say you know, it's just so much easier just to stay at home and create my entrepreneurial dream there.

Radke: Well encouraging immigration has been controversial. What can the government do about this that it can pull off politically?

Farrell: Oh, there's so many things the government can do. One, we would really love if we could tone down the rhetoric. But you know, on a very practical level, let's make it really easy for educated immigrants to come here, go to university, and when they graduate, to stay there, to permanently stay in the U.S. These are the kinds of things we need to do.

Radke: That's Marketplace's economics editor Chris Farrell. Chris, good to talk to you, thanks.

Farrell: Thanks a lot, Bill.

About the author

Chris Farrell is the economics editor of Marketplace Money.
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I agreed with Kathy and H.S., but we also need to improve our immigration policy. How about starting today all of the new immigrants cannot apply for the welfare programs forever. Let's see if the educated foreigners will be deterred or the uneducated ones! If they love this country, then they will come! If they just want to take advantages of our tax dollars, then we don't want them here!

Need more immigrants? you must be kidding. By flooding the market with a non-stop supply of workers, business has no incentive to improve wages or working conditions.
50 years ago it was not unusual to see Americans working in the meat packing plants. they paid a wage that could give a person a middle-class lifestyle. Today, because of an unending supply of immigrant labor, these jobs are low paying, dangerous and resemble conditions in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.
Allowing an unending supply of engineers, teachers, and other professional people only ensures a reduction in pay and working coditions for professionally trained Americans.

I recently talked to 2 people that had just gotten their masters degree, one in Electrical Engineering, the other in Spectral Analysis. They both said they had all sorts of organizations that wanted their labor cheap while they were student interns, but when they got their degrees and wanted to find a paying job in their degree field, nobody would even give them a job interview. Now they have huge student loans to pay off working low paying unskilled jobs. A friend got her masters in Business and it took 2 years to get a job in her degree field. She worked as a stocker in the warehouse at Blockbuster because they told her they only hire from within for the front office. She applied for every front office job that came up and saw foreigners from the outside get every position she applied for. Another friend put herself through nursing school and graduated as the runner up valedictorian of her class, but it took 6 months before she could even get an interview. Yet we are in such a dire need of nurses that we need to import them? If I go into a Home Depot store right after work and forget to remove my work ID badge, I get "networked" by store employees with degrees that want me to network them into a job where I work. We Americans would be glad to work with a foreigner in a job commensurate with our degree. We are not xenophobic just because we are angry that all the new jobs are created for only H1B's. You might look at me and say that I have a good job and should not be angry, but I have seen so many of my co-workers, including foreign born, put out on the street, and it will soon be my turn to suffer the same fate, as I am now over 50 and will soon be disposed of just like they were and never have another chance at a decent job. And no, we are not some obsolete people with dinosaur technology experience, we were working on the latest new technologies that bring fiber to the curb like Verizon Fios.

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