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The Immigration Advantage: Business Professionals Shaping the US Economy

Immigration Advantage Business Professionals

By: Kattie Muniz

Immigrant business professionals play a crucial and often underappreciated role in the US economy. From Silicon Valley tech giants to small business owners revitalizing local communities, the impact of these professionals enriches the American business landscape and drives economic growth and global competitiveness.

Among the voices shedding light on this vital contribution is Carlos M. Colombo, an internationally recognized immigration attorney and founding partner of Colombo & Hurd, PL. With a career dedicated to navigating the complexities of US immigration law, Colombo offers a unique perspective on how immigration policies shape the business world. 

“Immigrant professionals bring a wealth of diverse talent and ideas that are essential for the economic dynamism of the United States,” says Colombo. As an immigrant himself, he has firsthand experience with these challenges and opportunities.

The role of immigrant entrepreneurs and executives in the US economy

The entrepreneurial spirit among immigrants is strikingly evident. A study conducted by the New American Economy shows that Middle Eastern and North African immigrants lead at a 19.1 percent entrepreneurship rate, followed by Asian (11.1 percent) and Hispanic immigrants (10.6 percent), surpassing the US workers overall at 9.5 percent. This entrepreneurial inclination is especially prevalent among less-skilled immigrants, who have demonstrated a higher propensity to start businesses than their US-born counterparts.

The impact of immigrant entrepreneurs extends to the highest echelons of American business. According to the same study, a remarkable 44.2 percent of Fortune 500 firms in 2020 had at least one founder who was an immigrant or a child of immigrants. These companies are substantial in number and their economic contribution, employing 13.7 million people and generating $6.3 trillion in revenue in FY2019.

However, the journey of these entrepreneurs is not without obstacles. The US currently lacks a dedicated visa for immigrants who wish to start a company, often pushing them to sell a majority stake in their company to qualify for a high-skilled worker visa, underlining the need for more supportive and inclusive immigration policies to foster entrepreneurial growth.

Immigrant businesses also play a crucial role in revitalizing neighborhoods and spurring economic development. For instance, “Main Street” businesses, often led by immigrant entrepreneurs, transform neighborhoods into attractive, economically vibrant areas. Immigrants own a significant portion of these businesses, with over 50 percent in certain categories like gas stations, dry cleaners, and grocery stores.

In terms of regional impact, immigrants have been vital in revitalizing economies, especially in areas experiencing economic decline. Their businesses support their families, creating millions of jobs and generating substantial revenue, positively affecting entire communities and regions. 

Immigration policies and their impact on business immigration

The US immigration policy landscape profoundly influences business immigration, affecting the ability of American companies to attract and retain skilled global talent. The intersection of policy changes and ongoing trends offers a complex picture:

  • The Department of Labor’s new initiatives: The Department of Labor introduced a new online Permanent Labor Certification Program (PERM) and Form ETA 9089 in 2023. While this modernization aims at efficiency, it may lead to increased PERM audits and has not significantly reduced processing times, which could impact the entry rate of foreign labor into the US market. A new wage methodology for H-1B and other visa programs is also expected in 2024, potentially affecting employment costs for US companies hiring foreign workers.
  • H-1B Visa program modernization: The Department of Homeland Security proposed updates to the H-1B program in 2023 to modernize this critical pathway for skilled workers. Additionally, a new pilot program by the Department of State, starting in January 2024, will enable visa renewals from within the US to streamline the process for skilled workers to remain in the country.
  • Regulatory changes for nonimmigrant workers: The Department of Homeland Security’s regulatory agenda for 2024 includes significant proposals to amend regulations impacting nonimmigrant workers, enhance employment authorization rules, and modernize Employment Authorization Documents. A rule change anticipated in March 2024 seeks to improve the adjustment of the status process to permanent residency, potentially easing the transition for skilled workers.
  • Economic implications of current policies: Current restrictions on employment-based visas and high sponsorship costs prevent US businesses from effectively hiring the workers they need. For instance, in 2018, over 190,000 individuals applied for just 85,000 available high-skill H-1B visas. These limitations create a talent gap and place the US at a competitive disadvantage globally.

“The US has always been a beacon for global talent, but our current immigration policies must adapt to the evolving global landscape,” Colombo states. “Modernizing these policies is essential for attracting top talent and maintaining our competitive edge in the global economy.”

While the US continues to make strides in modernizing its immigration policies, more comprehensive reforms are needed to fully harness the economic benefits of skilled immigration. With its challenges and potential for improvement, the current system underscores the importance of thoughtful policy-making in shaping the future of US business immigration.

Challenges and opportunities: The road ahead for US business immigration

The future of US business immigration is defined by a complex interplay of challenges and opportunities.

  • Challenges: Businesses grapple with ever-evolving immigration policies, causing uncertainty in strategic planning. Delays in visa processing can impede the timely acquisition of global talent. Integrating culturally diverse professionals into the workforce and retaining them are crucial issues that need addressing.
  • Self-sponsored visas: EB-2 NIW and EB-1A visas enable businesses to attract exceptional talent without employer sponsorship. However, visa retrogression due to high demand necessitates increasing annual visa numbers to facilitate smoother talent acquisition.
  • Opportunities: Business immigration offers access to a global talent pool, which is essential for driving innovation and growth. Skilled immigrants, with their diverse perspectives, aid in expanding into new markets and fostering creativity. These dynamics contribute significantly to economic development and cultural diversity in the workplace, enhancing decision-making and customer relations.

“In a landscape marked by rapid policy shifts and cultural diversities, businesses must remain agile,” Colombo shares. “Leveraging the strengths of a globally diverse workforce is crucial for innovation and maintaining a competitive edge in the global market.”

As we move forward, a balance between addressing these challenges and capitalizing on the opportunities is key. Embracing digital transformation in immigration processes and adopting sustainable, long-term, growth-focused immigration policies will be vital in enabling businesses to propel innovation and economic prosperity.

Published by: Martin De Juan

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