RALEIGH — The national debate on immigration is broken. As a result, we are hurting our country's economic future by ignoring the many contributions of immigrants to the United States.
Indeed, America's fourth president, James Madison once stated, "America was indebted to immigration for her settlement and prosperity." Although much has changed since the 19th century, the economic and cultural benefits of immigration have remained constant over time. The positive impact immigrants have on our nation's economy, entrepreneurship, innovation and job creation have been proven in multiple academic studies, and in the Triangle the value of immigration is easily observed within our region.
Among its many attractions, one of the most notable features of the greater Raleigh area is the Research Triangle Park. Since its inception in 1959, RTP has grown into a global hub for research and development corporations. RTP is now home to more than 170 global companies, including big names such as IBM, Syngenta and Cisco.
However, the companies that make up RTP are facing a new, unprecedented challenge: Finding and retaining top talent.
The United States attracts some of the most brilliant minds from across the world to our universities. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the U.S. has more than 40 of the world's 50 top universities. Due to a flawed and outmoded immigration system, many of these talented individuals are not allowed to remain here after graduating. Chased off by our immigration system, they take their American-funded education, training and research to competing economies overseas.
This issue directly impacts North Carolina. We are home to some of the most prestigious universities in the nation, and in 2010, foreign students earned 57 percent of all engineering master's degrees and 53 percent of all engineering Ph.D.s in North Carolina. Yet the companies of the Research Triangle are too often cut off from hiring these talented individuals by outmoded immigration laws.
What should be low-hanging fruit right in the backyard of North Carolina businesses might as well be thousands of miles away.
Not only are American businesses losing in this situation, but the American worker also suffers. Contrary to popular belief, immigration actually creates jobs for U.S. citizens. Groups like The Partnership for a New American Economy, a national bipartisan group of mayors and business leaders, are working to make the economic case for immigration reform.
The Partnership teamed up with the American Enterprise Institute to study immigration and job creation. The findings show that every foreign student with an advanced degree working in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields adds an additional 2.62 jobs for Americans.
Yet the public debate is dominated by extremes instead of studies showing how immigration can help create jobs. To help start a new discussion, the Greater Raleigh Chamber is joining with the Partnership on Monday to host "Attracting the Best and the Brightest: Growing our Economy through Smarter Immigration Policies," to hear from local companies like Bioptigen, SAS and Lord Corporation how smarter immigration will help our companies innovate, expand and create new jobs for the Triangle.
Facing a broken debate about immigration, if we want progress we need to start talking about immigration as an economic issue with real job-creating possibilities. If we wait to fix this problem, we will continue to lose these potential investments in our nation's economic future.
Harvey A. Schmitt is CEO and president of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce. The immigration forum, for which there is a registration charge, will be at Embassy Suites Raleigh-Durham/Research Triangle on Harrison Oaks Boulevard in Cary, beginning at 8 a.m. Monday.