CNBC: “The $4.8 trillion immigration issue that is being overlooked by Washington.”

by Joseph McKeown


Immigrant-owned businesses employ more than 19 million people and generate $4.8 trillion in revenue, according to the National Immigration Forum, figures that demonstrate the tremendous positive impact immigrants have on the US economy. Immigrants are important business creators, in addition to holding positions in the service, construction, and farming industries as well as in Silicon Valley. "This phenomenon is across all ethnicities and education levels," Dr. Kerr, a professor of entrepreneurship who has been tracking the topic for over ten years, says. "There are many reasons immigrants start more businesses. Among them: They tend to be more daring and less risk averse, considering they were brave enough to migrate here and tolerate change. Many come to the U.S. specifically to start a business. Others face discrimination in the job market and opt to become business owners."

Immigrants account for roughly twenty-eight percent of small business owners in the US, according to the American Community Survey and the Survey of Small Business Owners. Moreover, immigrants account for more than forty percent of new businesses in California, New York, and New Jersey. According to a study by the National Foundation for American Policy, immigrants have helped establish more than half of America's "unicorn" start-ups (that is, privately held startups valued at over 1 billion), including Uber, Palantir Technologies, and SpaceX. The study finds fifty-five percent of top startups had at least one immigrant founder. A quarter of those founders came to the US as international students.

Despite strong evidence for their positive impact on the economy, current immigration policy can be limiting for high-skilled immigrants as well as immigrant entrepreneurs. One example is the quota for temporary H-1B workers for foreign nationals with specialty occupations which caps at a total of 85,000 a year—an amount that does not meet US job demand, according to small business experts. President Obama created the International Entrepreneur Rule allowing founders with start-ups that meet certain requirements to  grow their companies in the US; however, the Trump administration attempted to eliminate the rule, though that effort was challenged in courts.

Over the past decade, there have been attempts in Congress to pass legislation and create a so-called “Startup Visa,” but none have passed. Last month, Senators Jerry Moran, Mark Warner, Roy Blunt, and Amy Klobuchar reintroduced the Startup Act, which would create a visa category for foreign national entrepreneurs who want to launch start-ups in the US. Supporters of the Startup Act say it would catalyze entrepreneurial activity because of the high rate of immigrants who launch new companies.  (The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation found that immigrants to the United States are nearly twice as likely as native-born Americans to launch startups.)

Senator Moran, one of the sponsors of the “Startup Act,” says in a statement: "America continues to fall behind in new business development and struggles to retain top talent that could grow our U.S. economy." He adds: "With a renewed sense of urgency, Congress must prioritize policies that will help recruit and retain highly skilled students and innovators."