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Immigrants - The Once, and Future, Story of Jobs

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Turns out, I won the lottery without ever buying a ticket. So did many of the people I know. We were all born in the United States. A jackpot that none of us did anything to really earn. With all the talk of immigration reform I can't but think about how lucky I am to be born in the United States. The opportunities and benefits of living in the U.S. are tremendous. Sure we have serious problems but much of what we have: freedoms, healthc are, education, average income, lifespan, etc. is better than most of the world.

Doesn't the fact that we try to keep millions of people out strike you as selfish? After all, most of us didn't earn the right to live and work in the U.S. I'd like to think I work very hard to be worthy of it but the reality is that U.S. citizenship was a gift I received at birth.

Of course I'm not an expert on immigration. I help startups hire much-needed staff to drive innovation and the country's future. In the startup ecosystem the need for talent is a constant challenge. We have over two thousand open IT jobs alone on our website as I write this. The lack of talent can be the critical obstacle to a company's success. The best part is that filling jobs often leads to more job openings as the startup gets traction in the marketplace and/or further investment.

The major roadblock to this opportunity for job growth is that there aren't enough skilled workers with certain capabilities -- specifically those with STEM capabilities. According to a study from the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, the areas of science, technology, engineering and math could have a 230,000 shortfall of advanced degrees in the U.S. by 2018.

At a recent Startup America event I heard Steve Case lament that the best and brightest come from all over the world to Universities in the US. When they graduate they're told that it's time to leave, as their student visas are no longer applicable. Given the aforementioned study, this seems absurd doesn't it? These students take the education and ambition with them when they leave. Many go on to become great job creators - in another country - all while we diminish the ability for our own companies to meet their talent needs, further stifling the economy.

As much as anything else I'm writing this article to call attention to the masterful job Bryan Caplan has done thinking this issue through. I initially heard him interviewed on the Econtalk podcast. He identifies the arguments against open immigration that are commonly believed.

1. Immigrants lower the wages of people who are already here.
2. Immigrants would come here to take advantage of the welfare state. Effectively living off the rest of us.
3. We need immigration restrictions to protect American culture.
4. Immigrants will damage our political system by voting for a government similar to their home country.

Often these are wrong or overstated but even if we take them at face value, Mr. Caplan points out that there are far better ways to deal with those concerns than our current system. For instance, when he looks at the concern that immigrants will depress the wages of those already here, Caplan notes:

Go to the most anti-immigration of all the respectable researchers in this area, George Borjas. Go to his labor economics textbook. His estimated affect over the long run on the wages of American high school dropouts of all recent decades is that immigration reduced their wages by about 5 percentage points. Not 50 percent. Five percent.

And high school dropouts are the group hit hardest by the decade-long affect. Consequently, by his estimates some groups benefit. Caplan goes on to make the point that even if we believe these are real threats, which he clearly does not, there are far better ways for dealing with them than our current system.

We're Americans. We believe in freedom. The founding fathers wrote of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" and unalienable rights. For generations Americans have fought and died for our freedom and the freedom of others. Shouldn't we start with the assumption that people should be free to live and work where they please? We believe in that within our borders. Why should that belief stop at the Rio Grande or the 49th parallel?

I'm not saying that we lose sight of pragmatic considerations of course. There are valid concerns about infectious diseases, terrorism, and more. We may need to transition over time. What I am saying is that we should start with the idea that people should have the freedom to travel and work where they choose. And we should see the bigger picture, that when we promote that kind of accepting atmosphere, we can all prosper from it. That acceptance is what led my great grandfather to come over to this country. He contributed his fair measure to helping build my future, as did so many others before and after him. It's from that foundation that I'd like to see immigration reform built.