If We Don't Reform, Can We Still Be Called the Land of Opportunity?

04/28/2015 04:16 pm ET | Updated Jun 28, 2015

Welcoming more foreigners into the U.S. workforce is not traitorous. In fact, it is quite patriotic, and not simply for the obvious ideological reasons.

The argument frequently put forth is that further development of our immigration system's infrastructure works against our own people by contributing to increased competition in the domestic job market. This fear can be put to rest by a couple of statistics and a simple concept.

On the educational spectrum, the majority of Americans fall smack in the middle. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, almost 80 percent of Americans hold high school diplomas. And according to the U.S. Department of Education, a mere 8 percent hold master's degrees.

Immigrants, on the other hand, do not fall within the same distribution, and this disparity spills over into the job pool as well.

Because foreigners are striving for different types of employment than native-borns, they are bimodal, actively filling the gaps in our labor force at the bottom and the top.

Low-level foreign laborers supplement our own inability to produce unskilled workers. As a developed country with one of the top 20 educational systems in the entire world, we are not equipped to consistently produce field hands, and it shows in the data. According to the 2011 U.S. Department of Labor's National Agriculture Workers Survey, immigrants comprise 71 percent of total farmworkers in the U.S..

The overwhelming majority, 95 percent, of our immigrant farmworker population is from Mexico. The North Carolina Growers Association completed a study on the retention of Mexican versus U.S. workers during an average harvest season. Compared with an impressive 90 percent of Mexican laborers, a mere 10 percent of the native-born workers made it through the entire growing season.

To reject the virtuous efforts of these foreign workers is to reject the availability of the fruits and vegetables we take for granted, and at the price we want. But if we fail to revise our policies, produce isn't the only thing we'll be giving up.

On the other end of the spectrum, highly skilled foreigners in the STEM fields look to our country as a hub for innovation and growth. Even through our current obstructing policies, foreign-born immigrants managed to develop or co-found one quarter of technology and engineering companies between 1995 and 2012, as reported by The Kauffman Foundation. Those initiated between 2006 and 2012 employed an average of 21.37 people each.

Prohibiting these job-creating immigrants access to our economy does not accomplish the goal of ensuring domestic employment for our native-born. Between 1995 and 2006, the technology companies started by immigrants accounted for an impressive 10 percent of total job creation. This number is made even more remarkable by the fact that these immigrant tech firms made up only 1 percent of all firms developed.

So not only are immigrants filling in the existing gaps in our work force, but at the top level they are also creating more opportunities than Americans, and for Americans to fill.

As the U.S. economy's auspicious track record increases our attractiveness to foreigners, it is now more important than ever to realize the complementary value bimodal immigrants provide to our country. The sharpest minds and most able hands increasingly arrive stateside, and our labor market is hungry for the expertise these foreigners possess.

The only point we're still holding our breath over, is how much more potential our country will have to lose before the Hill realizes this.

Fariborz Ghadar is founding director of The Center for Global Business Studies at Penn State's Smeal College of Business and a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He is author of the book 'Becoming American: Why Immigration is Good for Our Nation's Future.' Follow him on Twitter @FGhadar