Guest Opinion: Reform necessary to encourage immigrant entrepreneurs


May 9, 2014 

Meaningful immigration reform will have a significant impact on job growth and the economy. According to the Kauffman Foundation, immigrants are twice as likely to start a new business as native-born Americans. Unfortunately, our current immigration policies make it exceptionally difficult for foreign entrepreneurs to establish these new businesses. We need to encourage these entrepreneurs to invest in our country and in our communities - it is time for Congress to pass immigration legislation.

A June 2011 report by the Partnership for a New American Economy stated that between 1996 and 2011, the rate at which native-born Americans started new businesses declined by 10 percent. During this same period, new businesses started by immigrants grew by more than 50 percent. In 2011, immigrants started three out of every 10 new businesses in the United States, which means that almost one in every 10 individuals working at a privately owned company in the United States is employed because of an immigrant-owned business. Clearly, foreign entrepreneurs are creating jobs and helping the economy. However, under our current immigration system, immigrant entrepreneurs are being forced to leave the United States rather than being welcomed to stay.

Immigrants tend to move into lower-rent neighborhoods that are experiencing deteriorating conditions and little economic activity. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce states that many of these immigrants establish businesses as an alternative to working low-wage jobs, usually within three to 10 years after arriving in the country. Immigrant-owned businesses span a variety of fields including retail, restaurants, real estate and technology. These businesses revitalize struggling communities by providing needed services as well as local jobs.

In addition, many of the businesses started by foreign entrepreneurs are small businesses. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, small businesses are essential to economic recovery because of the significant number of jobs they create. In fact, the U.S. Small Business Administration estimates that small businesses are responsible for generating 64 percent of net new jobs over the past 15 years.

Our nation relies on entrepreneurs to create new businesses and generate economic growth. However, few realize the significant number of immigrants starting these much-needed businesses. The current immigration policies are outdated, rigid and unresponsive to the changing economy.

On the local, state, and national level, it is in our best interest to recruit and retain the best entrepreneurial minds looking to start businesses and hire U.S. workers. The House must pass meaningful immigration reform this year in order to keep our country moving in an economically successful direction.

VanderSloot is CEO of Melaleuca Inc. and serves on the Board of Directors for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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