New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recently joked that every U.S. Ph.D. granted to a foreign student should have a green card attached to it.
That’s because highly educated, foreign-born students are much more likely than most Americans to start businesses that eventually employ other people.
Yet, instead of thinking about ways we can use immigration policy to bolster our flagging economy, too many Americans can’t get past the mental image of illegal immigrants flooding across our southern border or draining our social welfare systems.
The Maine State Chamber of Commerce sought to change that impression last week by hosting a panel discussion at Bates College titled “Staying Competitive in a Global Age: The Role of the Immigration Community in Maine’s Job Creation.”
“Our borders are absolutely important,” said Jeremy Robbins, manager of the Partnership for a New American Economy. “But so is the economy, and immigration is fundamental to us staying competitive.”
Robbins was one of five speakers on the panel making the same argument — immigration is a solution rather than a problem.
He was emphatic that the U.S. should be using immigration policy to attract potential investors and job creators, not turning them away.
“Many immigrants will come to us from other countries where they have degrees,” Cindy Talbot, vice president of human resources for Barber Foods in Portland, told the group.
After receiving English-language training, she said, “They become supervisors in our plants and planners for others,” she said. “They own homes, purchase cars and become a member of our community.”
That argument is probably a hard sell in Lewiston-Auburn, where the most visible immigrant group — refugees from the strife in Africa — are struggling to get their economic feet beneath them.
They will, but it will take time.
Still, the U.S. must do more to attract foreign investors and highly skilled emigres.
Canada, for instance, accepts refugees and those who have relatives who are citizens. But it also has an “economic” immigration category.
If you possess a Ph.D. or a master’s degree, you receive 25 points. Bring less than a high school degree and you receive no points.
If you have management, professional or a highly skilled work background, you could receive up to 21 points. If you can bring some savings with you (at least $12,659 for a couple), you get more points. The more points, the greater the chance of being allowed to stay and work in Canada.
All of which may strike some Americans as unegalitarian, recalling the invitation on the Statue of Liberty for the world to send us its “huddled masses” and “wretched refuse.”
The U.S. continues to do its share to provide a home for the persecuted and impoverished.
But it is more important than ever that we remain a beacon to those who bring skill, money or just a burning desire to get ahead to a land that affords them freedom and opportunity.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.