America prides itself for being the golden door of opportunity and freedom. Today, that ideal of being the refuge for the world is increasingly overshadowed by the competition for human capital in lucrative fields such as science, technology, and medicine. Instead of welcoming the “poor huddled masses,” it seems more politically-correct today to revise the Emma Lazarus poem emblazoned at the foot of the Statue of Liberty as: “Give me your PhDs, your highly-skilled workers, your job-creating businesses yearning to make America #1.”
Indeed, the United States’ immigration system is utterly inadequate in meeting the labor demands of our innovative industries. Over 75% of high-end patents belong to teams with at least one foreign-born inventor, but many of whom are also in immigration limbo. The standard H1-B visa for high-skilled workers is capped at 65,000 per year, with stringent requirements by the employers and unrealistic restrictions for start-ups. This year, it only took 72 days before these visas were used up.
Many entrepreneurs and innovators find it extremely difficult to stay in the United States, opting for unconventional methods such as working in a ship floating over international waters, or simply taking their talents to Canada and elsewhere. As policymakers, universities, and businesses call for immigration reform that spurs entrepreneurial activity, it must also be met with the holistic narrative of welcoming all who desire a better life. It is the ability to absorb people with little assets and big dreams that makes America truly exceptional – as exemplified by generations upon generations starting with the pilgrims, to the Gold Rush miners from China, those fleeing the Irish potato famine, the persecuted Jews in Europe, and Mexican farmers who are priced out by American agribusiness.
As the son of a Syrian immigrant, Steve Jobs’ iconic career is often celebrated as the hallmark of American ingenuity. For every Steve Jobs, there are thousands of other remarkable unsung immigrant heroes and heroines who rejuvenate our Main Streets via neighborhood businesses, restaurants, and globally-connected and culturally-enriching organizations. What we often take for granted are the hard-working hands from abroad that grow our food, care for our children and elderly, and build our houses. Immigration and labor laws that embrace them, protects their rights, and offer legal pathways toward putting down roots for those who would like to further contribute, are as important as STEM and start-up visas.
Alas, the reality of America’s need to attract foreign labor is often fraught with the outcries of “they take our jobs.” But the overarching narrative is clear: America and other industrialized countries are increasingly dependent on foreign labor from all skill levels – and this country’s competitive edge has always been the relatively high influx of immigrants.
As the world markets continues to integrate, people of faith need to tell the fuller story of how globalization displaces workers and fans the flames of nativism. As we advocate for sensible and economically-advantageous solutions to our immigration law, we also need to assure that business and government do not take advantage of human beings’ fundamental need to work, survive, and at times move across borders.
We must affirm the dignity of every worker and the dreams they carry to provide for their families and fulfill their God-given potential.
Samuel Tsoi is the Policy Associate for the Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition. He is a member of the Boston Chinese Evangelical Church and graduate of Gordon College and University of Massachusetts Boston. Twitter: @samueltsoi
Please note that the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of everyone associated with G92 or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated.
We’re always looking for new guest bloggers; please check out our Guest Blog Submission Guidelines if you’re interested.