If one thing unites almost everyone in the United States, no matter their political views, it is this: We need greater investment and growth with more jobs and opportunity for as many Americans as possible. If there is another thing that most Americans can agree on, it is that too many elected leaders in Washington seem unwilling or unable to tackle the most pressing issues that face our country.
Meanwhile, business leaders are more united than ever on one issue: the importance of fixing America’s immigration system for the long term. The economic case to do so is powerful and clear. Passing immigration reform would provide the opportunity for Washington to show Americans that policymakers can work together to solve big problems and boost the economy at the same time.
Immigration reform would improve economic growth. The Bipartisan Policy Center estimates that reform would boost gross domestic product by 4.8 percent and productivity by 1.0 percent over 20 years. Reform would also increase U.S. employment and raise wages. The Congressional Budget Office projects it would add 9 million workers to the labor force while slightly increasing wages over 20 years.
This expansion would have a powerful effect on easing our massive fiscal challenges. The Bipartisan Policy Center estimates that federal deficits would decrease by almost $1.2 trillion over 20 years. This is a strong antidote to the deficits that make vital activity like infrastructure investment and worker training programs so hard to fund today.
Immigration also creates businesses. The Partnership for a New American Economy estimates that immigrants are nearly 50 percent more likely to start a business than native-born workers. These businesses create jobs and bring more customers into the supply chain, which in turn generates more revenue for local governments and resources for communities across America. It is important to note that immigrants or their children founded more than 40 percent of U.S. Fortune 500 companies — turning their American dreams into American jobs. That is just one reason why high-skilled immigrants are so critical to growth.
Beyond the numbers are the people themselves who make the case for reform. In a report the Business Roundtable released this year, “Contributing to American Growth,” we featured stories of our member CEOs and senior executives in their companies who immigrated to America (many through use of higher-skilled visas) and have contributed to economic growth and job creation. The story of immigration is the story of America, and America needs a system that allows people to come here and contribute their talents and skills to economic prosperity for all. Today, there is a global competition for talent, and we cannot afford to lose out to other nations.
Creating an immigration system that reflects the realities of today’s economy needs to start with strong, meaningful reform that secures our borders, protects our citizens, enforces our laws and helps our economy grow again. The right reforms include improving America’s technological capability to enforce immigration laws, such as resources for border security and an E-Verify system for U.S. employers; welcoming legal immigrant workers to contribute to U.S. economic growth and job creation by increasing visas for higher-skilled workers and establishing a system for lower-skilled workers; and developing a process for undocumented immigrants already residing in the United States to come forward, undergo background checks, pay a penalty and earn legal status.
An immigration system that works for America would strengthen national security while making the American economy healthier. We urge Congress and the president to put the U.S. economy first and fix our broken immigration system.
• John Engler is a former governor of Michigan and the current president of the Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs of leading U.S. companies.