- - Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Now that a new Congress has been elected, it’s time for our leaders to act on an issue that directly affects the health of manufacturing in the United States: immigration reform.

The immigration system, as it stands, puts our nation at a competitive disadvantage. It encourages illegal immigration and discourages talented workers from staying in the United States.

Yet the human and political aspects of the immigration debate often overshadow the economic one.

In the past, opponents of immigration reform have used the politics of distraction effectively to prevent progress. These tactics do not change the reality that immigration reform is a competitiveness issue, particularly for manufacturers.

Manufacturing supports an estimated 17.4 million jobs in the United States, which translates to one in six private-sector jobs. But manufacturers face significant challenges and uncertainty due to high taxes, overregulation, rising health care costs and workforce challenges.



Even in this time of persistent unemployment, manufacturers struggle to find qualified workers. Some 600,000 manufacturing jobs are open because employers can’t find workers with the right skills. This dearth of skilled workers costs the average manufacturer 11 percent of its revenue due to lost productivity.

The skills gap is a national phenomenon. According to a recent report, there will be a shortfall of 2 million manufacturing workers by 2025.

The National Association of Manufacturers is spearheading a number of initiatives to train and educate U.S. workers for careers in modern manufacturing, including aligning with community colleges, the military and high schools. Those efforts, however, will take time, and we need workers to fill manufacturers’ immediate needs.

That’s why it’s essential that we reform our entire immigration system now to allow foreign talent to be hired if qualified Americans are unavailable.

Paradoxically, the United States is already educating the best and brightest in the world, only to force them to leave after receiving their degrees. Without a rational set of reforms, we will continue sending homegrown talent to our competitors and turning away another generation of entrepreneurs.

In fact, more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were either started by an immigrant or the child of an immigrant. American manufacturing enterprises founded by immigrants span all sectors, from technology to steel, to chemicals, to medical devices, to many others.

The argument for reform, of course, goes far beyond economics. Manufacturers are anchors of the communities they have helped build. Immigration reform will strengthen the fabric of our communities.

At its core, America’s story is an immigration story — of people who took enormous personal risk to better themselves and, in doing so, bettered our nation. That’s why we believe immigration reform must include a pathway to citizenship for the millions of undocumented individuals in the United States.

The National Association of Manufacturers calls on the next Congress to do the right thing and fix the nation’s broken immigration system.

Immigration reform will strengthen our national and economic security as well as the communities in which we work and live.

It’s the wise thing to do, and it’s the American thing to do.

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