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 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 10:24 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 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?
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
updated 5:21 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
updated 9:54 AM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Sally Kohn says the Ferguson protests reflect broader patterns of racial injustice across the country, from chronic police violence and abuse against black men to the persistent economic and social exclusion of communities of color.
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
updated 9:59 AM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 1:34 PM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Sun August 17, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
updated 5:46 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
updated 6:26 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
updated 4:24 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
updated 6:56 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
updated 4:35 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
updated 7:08 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
updated 11:25 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT