Why don’t business leaders have more say in immigration policy?

USCIS photo(iStockphoto/Grocery Photography)

Most agree that U.S. immigration policy is a mess. Sometimes it’s even hard to know what it is.

Immigration policy differences divide us as a nation and generate a lot of misinformation. They result in more than 10 million people living permanently in the United States as undocumented or illegal immigrants. How you call them seems to depend somewhat on your political leanings.

Another result is that borders – especially the southern border – are more open than many would like, although it is not as open as some claim. Tens of thousands of loyal, hard-working, and often underappreciated government employees have been caught in the middle of trying to enforce the latest immigration policy.

Immigrants need America. It remains the most attractive destination in the world for the politically or economically oppressed. Lost in this conversation is the extent to which America needs immigrants. We need their youth, their willingness to work in any job, their productivity, their contribution to the social security system that is aggravated by America’s aging, and, of course, their skills. Think of what has happened over the decades as a massive skimming effect that benefits America while reducing the talent pool in countries that offer the least opportunity.

Few groups have been as maligned or so poorly portrayed as our immigrant community. This has been the case for more than a century. For now, the focus is on those who have crossed the border to apply for asylum without having to “queue” for full records or legal entry. (As economist Tara Watson and author Kalee Thompson point out in their recent book, it would be more accurate to say that there are no boundaries under current policy.)

They feature some potential sources of disease, drugs, gangs, crime, you name it. The crimes they committed received additional publicity. However, common sense and the data we have do not support these allegations. Think about it: these are the best people who are willing and able to leave their country and come to ours. They will come here in a very vulnerable situation. A blunder and undocumented or illegal deportation. As a result, data from reputable sources suggests that they have significantly lower crime rates than those of us who are already citizens.

My concern here is not a political issue or a policy issue, but whether business leaders have enough “voice” on issues affecting their talent pool and the overall growth rate of the U.S. economy. The question comes at a time when one can ask if the US has exceeded its talent pool, with unemployment currently extremely low, with more than 4 million job openings, and millions of employed people debating how much they want to work their post-pandemic Life.

Even in the face of the fact that the U.S. has granted legal permanent status to roughly one million people each year for the past two decades, there are still job openings. As a result, over the past 50 years, the share of the foreign-born U.S. population has nearly tripled (as far as we can count), to levels last seen around 1900.

There is one business “community” that has tracked these situations and exploited this opportunity closely: high tech. My colleague William Kerr has written extensively about efforts to ensure an adequate flow of skilled talent into the country through various avenues. But leaders in other industries seem reluctant to influence the debate on immigration policy issues.

One can understand why it is not in their organization’s best interest to weigh all the issues facing society, but this directly affects their organization’s performance. This is controversial. But to a large extent, the health of the country’s economy depends on the rational, rational approach its business community is best equipped to offer to seize this opportunity.

Why aren’t business leaders more outspoken about immigration policy? What do you think?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

refer to:

  • William R. Kerr, The Gift of Global Talent: How Migration Shapes Business, Economy and Society (Stanford Business Books, 2021).
  • Tara Watson and Carly Thompson, Internal Borders: The Economics of Migration in an Age of Fear (University of Chicago Press, 2022)

Your feedback on last month’s column

Are managers underestimating the need for face-to-face contact?

Managers understand but are still evaluating the need for face-to-face (f2f) contact. Various mixed work arrangements and making valuable f2f time more efficient are the answer. That’s the feeling I got from my reply to last month’s column.

Penny Vodanborg commented: “It is more likely that managers overestimated the need for face-to-face contact and were (eventually) forced to question spending time and money (not themselves) during the pandemic. !) is it wise to travel often to far-flung places for conversations that can be conducted remotely more efficiently and cost-effectively.”

William Ryan also spoke about the need for in-person planning for quality time, saying: “Maybe the question needs to focus on the reasons for the F2F meetup. Are managers going to listen to the readings and talk about their plans, or have teammates interact with each other?” Contact to connect, network and create?

Personal experiences vary. Jacob Navon said: “…there is no substitute for f2f when it comes to building culture and mentoring new employees… Also, WFH (work from home) is a serious misnomer. It’s more of a ‘living in at work’.”

Stephanie reports, “…my entire team reported signing up for virtual meetings, but didn’t really feel like they had the full amount of time to fully participate, as if they were going to the meeting.” William Cottinger Added: “I found that team building and communication in a virtual environment presented a new set of challenges that required a whole new set of interpersonal skills.”

Kathryn Lawrence reminds us that we have been losing “community layers” for decades. In her words, “COVID has accelerated, but not caused a reorientation of how the workforce gets things done.” Some would see it as a cost, while others would see it as a savings, she noted.

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