Following the new millennium, Kentucky witnessed staggering growth to its immigrant population. These residents brought business and a new labor force, strengthening the state’s economy. This reason alone necessitates that Kentuckians have a vested interest in immigration reform.
Just consider national elections: If any Republican veers from the conservative stance, it will be seemingly toxic for his or her chances at being elected. But Kentucky cannot afford a polarized populace. Kentucky needs immigration reform because Kentucky needs its immigrants.
Though Kentucky educates some of the brightest foreigners, most are only temporary residents. According to the Partnership for a New American Economy, in 2009, 40.4 percent of STEM graduates at research-focused universities were temporary residents, and nearly 80 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.
Instead, these educated students could help to fill holes in Kentucky’s workforce.
From 2009 to 2011, for every unemployed STEM worker, 1.45 STEM jobs were posted online. Kentucky is also in need of a larger labor force in the medical field, as almost half of the state’s counties have a deficit in the number of primary care physicians. Additionally, almost a quarter of Kentucky’s active physicians are 60 or older.
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 nationwide. Meanwhile, other countries, such as Canada and Australia, are actively soliciting and attracting highly skilled immigrants, allowing them to build centers of excellence.
For Kentucky, in particular, the Regional Economic Model Inc. (REMI) estimates an expansion in the number of H1-B visas supplied would offer over $146 million in gross state product and more than 1,700 jobs. Additionally, undocumented immigrants who obtain citizenship could generate more than $334 million and 4,100 jobs by 2020.
Currently, immigrants are already positively affecting Kentucky’s economy as entrepreneurs. As stated by the Partnership for a New American Economy, “Kentucky’s foreign born business owners generate 5.4 percent of the state’s business revenues in 2010 despite owning just 3.8 percent of the state’s business.”
Immigrants have also had a significant influence on business nationally.
Today, immigrants and their children start over 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 the U.S. GDP. Immigrants also foster small business growth. In total, immigrants represent 18 percent of our nation’s small business owners, while they only account for 13 percent of the U.S. population.
Clearly, it is in the best interest of Kentucky to embrace its foreign workers and 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 currently have.