Virginia needs immigration reform

Virginians may be wondering how the prospects for immigration reform being effectively dead until 2016 will affect them. But the reality is that there’s resultant national impact.

Just consider national elections: If any Republican veers from the conservative stance, it will be seemingly toxic for his or her chances of being elected. But Virginia cannot afford a polarized populace. Virginia needs immigration reform.

 Though Virginia educates some of the brightest foreigners, most are only temporary residents. According to the Partnership for a New American Economy, in 2009, 38.8 percent of STEM graduates at research-focused universities were temporary residents, and nearly 57 percent of those graduating with an engineering PhD were foreign-born.

So, we recognize the value in educating these talented, smart individuals, but once they’ve learned from us, we send them on their way to bring their expertise to other countries? That doesn’t seem logical.

As evidenced by fiscal year 2014’s short five-day filing period of H1-B visas administered to those with a higher degree, there clearly is a desire and need for foreign workers. Meanwhile, other countries, such as Canada and Australia, are actively soliciting and attracting highly skilled immigrants, allowing them to build centers of excellence.

For Virginia, in particular, an expansion would allow for 11,600 new jobs by 2020 and about $4.7 billion in Gross State Product by 2045. Additionally, it is predicted that personal income would increase by more than $4.2 billion by 2045, as found by Regional Economic Models Inc.

Immigrants are already positively affecting Virginia’s economy as entrepreneurs. As stated by the Immigration Policy Center, “Immigrants accounted for over 40 percent of the growth in entrepreneurship in Virginia between 2000 and 2010.”

In 2010, immigrants owned more than 17 percent of Virginian businesses — a figure made even more significant when considering only 11 percent of Virginia’s population is foreign-born. That same year, newly found businesses owned by foreigners reported a total net income of $3 billion.

Immigrants have also had a significant influence on business nationally. Today, immigrants and their children start more than 40 percent of America’s Fortune 500 firms. In turn, these companies have created more than 10 million jobs and have generated $4.5 trillion of annual revenue, which is about 30 percent of U.S. GDP. Immigrants also foster small business growth. In total, immigrants represent 18 percent of our nation’s small business owners, while they account for only 13 percent of the U.S. population.

Clearly, it is in the best interest of Virginia to embrace its foreign workers, even undocumented ones. As stated by the Immigration Policy Center, “If all unauthorized immigrants were removed from Virginia, the state would lose $11.2 billion in economic activity, $5.5 billion in gross state product, and approximately 62,918 jobs . . . ” At the same time, Virginia needs to support immigration reform because, under current policies, the U.S. falls short. If the United States wants to remain competitive, we need policies that allow employers to hire competent individuals — policies we don’t have.

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About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…