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Another Voice: New York’s economic needs require action on immigration reform

By Fariborz Ghadar

If any Republican veers from the conservative stance on immigration, it will be seemingly toxic for his or her chances at being elected. But New York cannot afford a polarized populace. New York needs immigration reform.

Though New York educates some of the brightest foreigners, most are temporary residents. According to the Partnership for a New American Economy, in 2009, 53.4 percent of STEM graduates at research-focused universities were foreign-born, and “almost 70 percent of the students earning engineering Ph.D.s in the state in recent years were also noncitizens.” So, we recognize the value in educating these talented, smart individuals, but once they’ve learned from us, we send them on their way to bring their expertise to other countries. That doesn’t seem logical.

As evidenced by fiscal year 2014’s short five-day filing period of H1-B visas administered to those with a higher degree, there clearly is a desire and need for foreign workers. Meanwhile, other countries, such as Canada and Australia, are actively soliciting and attracting highly skilled immigrants, allowing them to build centers of excellence.

For New York, Regional Economic Model Inc. (REMI) estimates an expansion in the number of H1-B visas supplied would offer more than $2.3 billion in gross state product and more than 21,600 jobs. By establishing a pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens, about $2.8 billion and 29,000 jobs could be created, according to REMI.

Not only would immigration reform economically benefit the state, but New York is also in need of immigrant labor. As reported by the Partnership for a New American Economy, “from 2009 to 2011 almost 1.7 STEM jobs were posted online in New York for every unemployed STEM worker in the state.” Moreover, New York is expected to experience a shortage of workers in the medical field.

Currently, immigrants are already positively affecting New York’s economy as entrepreneurs. They own more than 30 percent of New York businesses, which have collectively generated more than $12.5 billion in income.

Fariborz Ghadar, Ph.D., is the founding director of the Center for Global Business Studies at Penn State’s Smeal College of Business.