When it comes to restoring strong, long-term growth in our nation's economy, there are few solutions more practical, bi-partisan, and urgent than immigration reform.
Our current immigration system is rigid, outdated, and simply unable to keep up with demands of the new global marketplace. For our nation to thrive and transcend international competition in the 21st century economy, it is incumbent for us to build an immigration system that welcomes people who share our values, as well as the entrepreneurial spirit that has made our country great.
No one can doubt that we are a nation whose foundation was built by immigrants. But did you know that more than 40 percent of today's Fortune 500 companies were founded by an immigrant, or a child of an immigrant? Or that more than 75 percent of all the patents received by the top ten U.S. universities in 2011 had an immigrant inventor? While we celebrate our nation's first immigrants every Thanksgiving -- and while many of us cherish the stories shared by our own family members who made the pilgrimage to our shores -- we too often forget that today, and every day, recent immigrants continue to play a vital role in the American economy.
Unfortunately, far too often, our immigration policies drive too many foreign-born entrepreneurs and job creators away, even after we have trained them and given them degrees from American universities.
This is not simply a matter of compassion or human interest. This is about the very survival of our economy, way of life, and continued global leadership. We must make it easier for foreign-born, U.S.-educated students to get visas. We must create a startup visa program for entrepreneurs and innovators who want to come to our country to start businesses and hire American workers, especially when they already have U.S. investors to back their ideas. We must be doing everything we can to keep that capital in the U.S., rather than handing the next great idea over to our competitors.
Furthermore, with the enormous baby boomer generation set to retire, our current aging workforce simply cannot keep up with the demands. We need many more young workers, both in the high- and low-skilled areas of our economy. The U.S. government estimates that there are more than 3.5 million unfilled jobs in this country, even with high unemployment. Shortages are particularly high in industries with seasonal demands, like agriculture, landscaping, and hospitality. Many hotels and resorts across the country remain at half capacity, even during the busiest tourist seasons, simply because they cannot find enough workers to meet demands. We leave hundreds of millions of dollars in crops out in the fields because we can't hire enough workers to harvest them in time.
Unfortunately, our system is not structured in a way that accounts for the ebb and flow of our labor needs. We need a more flexible visa allotment system, and we need to expand the number of employment-based visas that are issued each year. Right now, only 7 percent of all green cards are distributed for employment based reasons, which is clearly far too low.
It is refreshing to see Congress take the initial steps to reform, and I applaud the bi-partisan Gang of Eight for taking a leadership role in these efforts and laying out sensible solutions. They have opened the door for a healthy debate. Now we need to make sure that Congress takes action and creates a more modern and reasonable immigration system for our country.
I will never forget the pride I felt when my wife -- the mother of our two incredible daughters -- was naturalized as a U.S. citizen. We must reform our system so that many more families can experience the joy she felt in becoming an American. And we must reform our system because their pride and joy results in a better economic climate and more job opportunity for all of our country.