Skip to main content

U.S. needs 21st century immigration plan

By John Feinblatt, Special to CNN
updated 10:24 AM EST, Wed January 30, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • John Feinblatt: U.S. immigration system hasn't been updated since black and white TV
  • Feinblatt: Today our economy is competing on a global scale for the best and brightest
  • He says other nations offer incentives; we make it hard for workers to get in
  • U.S. can't fill STEM jobs, he says. We need to lure workers and entrepreneurs

Editor's note: John Feinblatt is the chief adviser for policy and strategic planning to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

(CNN) -- The prospects for immigration reform just got a lot brighter. Eight leading senators, four Republicans and four Democrats, came together to announce on Monday their agreement on broad principles to modernize our immigration laws, which have been largely unchanged since 1965.

Since then, the world has changed dramatically and globalized markets have revolutionized our economy. But our antiquated immigration laws are still designed for an economy that existed when people were watching black and white TV.

John Feinblatt
John Feinblatt

As China offers generous stipends, access to prestigious incubators, honorary titles and other benefits to lure home the scientists and engineers who come to America to study, we turn these innovators away.

As Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Singapore and Chile offer visas and other incentives to attract entrepreneurs to their countries, we make it nearly impossible for most entrepreneurs to come here. And as countries like the United Kingdom experiment with using independent economists to help determine which immigrants their economy needs, we continue with an immigration system that not only ignores our economic health, but actively works to undermine it.

Opinion: Stars align at last for immigration plan

In South Korea, Spain and Switzerland, roughly 80% of all permanent visas are used for employment needs. Italy, Germany, and the United Kingdom allocate around 60% of all permanent visas this way. But in the United States, we give just 7% of our permanent residency "green cards" to fill gaps in our economy.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



In the past, we could afford an immigration system that was not focused on recruiting top workers. With the American economy such a dominant force, these workers had no other choice but to wait and wait until they could get to America.

But in the global economy, talent is transient. A top scientist who cannot gain access to the United States can easily go work in a lab in Germany, India or any other of America's direct competitors. Canadian immigration authorities recruit scientists with just this pitch, promising far easier entry and access to permanent residency then they could gain in the United States.

The economics are simple. If we attract and retain the world's top talent, our economy will grow faster. A recent study by the conservative American Enterprise Institute and the bipartisan Partnership for a New American Economy found that, from 2000 to 2007, each foreign-born worker with an advanced degree from a U.S. university who stayed in the country to work in science, technology, engineering and math -- the STEM fields -- created, on average, 2.62 additional jobs for American workers. Their innovations power new technologies, new products and new companies.

And the reverse is equally true. If we fail to attract and retain the world's top talent, our economy will falter. By 2018, the United States is projected to have a shortage of more than 230,000 advanced degree STEM workers. Jobs in these fields are exploding, growing three times faster than the rest of the economy over the last decade, but we simply cannot fill them, even in a recession with so many people looking for work.

Obama: Economy needs immigration revamp
Immigration overhaul a reality?
Why is GOP shifting on immigration?
The politics of immigration

The same is true in industries all over the economic spectrum. Harsh immigration laws that discourage migrant farm workers have led to millions of dollars of crops rotting on the vine. Overly bureaucratic and restrictive visa application processes have forced hotels to run at less than peak capacity even when demand is high because they can't get workers to staff them.

Opinion: Key to immigration reform -- Worker visas

In an iPad and smartphone world, we need an iPad and smartphone immigration system. We need a system that recognizes that it is not only possible, but even probable, that a business would have its manufacturing in China, its headquarters in Europe, its back office in India and its sales offices all over the globe.

We need a system that makes it easy for entrepreneurs, scientists, farm workers, engineers, hotel workers, business travelers and all the workers our economy needs to easily come here and help our companies compete. And we need a system that is flexible to changing economic demands, attracting workers when and where they are needed and easing immigration when demand for workers slows.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the 500 business leaders and mayors who make up the Partnership for a New American Economy have been making the economic case for immigration reform for the last several years. Republicans and Democrats are once again, for the first time in years, having honest discussions on how to overhaul the system.

Reforming our immigration laws is not just good economics, it's also good politics. This was made evident on Monday when leading Republicans and Democrats in the Senate came together behind principles that, in their words, would improve our immigration system so that it "will help build the American economy" and "establish an improved process for admitting future workers to serve our nation's workforce needs." Recruiting the talent we need to compete and succeed in a global marketplace is an idea that crosses party lines.

Opinion: Immigrant -- Can we trust Obama?

America became the world's most dynamic and powerful economy by opening our doors to all those seeking freedom and opportunity. If we are to retain that position in the 21st century, we must open our doors not only to family members and asylum seekers, but to more of the talented and hard-working people our economy needs to grow.

This is a moment of progress. Leading members of both parties in Congress understand the need for action and are standing together with an agenda for reform. Let's capitalize on it and get the modern immigration system our economy deserves.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of John Feinblatt.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 11:16 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 9:40 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT