In recent years, we have seen the expansion of the global marketplace where market productivity has increasingly become dependent on technology. Our country’s ability to maintain the technical manpower needed to compete internationally has become and continues to be a critical issue. Furthermore, a significant number of the students who pursue advanced science and technology degrees in the United States are foreign-born students.
As a result, the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) visa program has been proposed to grant visas to foreign students who graduate from U.S. universities with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and math fields. There is merit to the STEM objective of allowing those highly skilled workers with advanced degrees to remain and work in the United States. Retaining these individuals should help to keep the United States competitive in the world economy. However, the STEM proposal does not establish any new visas for these individuals. Instead, the STEM proposal inexplicably reallocates the Diversity Visa Program visas created by the Immigration Act of 1990; and, as presently proposed, would effectively end the Diversity Visa Program.
No one can argue against attracting and retaining the best and the brightest in competitive fields. To do so meets an immediate need of the country. However, the Diversity Visa Program has a longer-range view and is not limited to one set of workers. The Diversity Visa Program’s net is cast much wider. It offers the opportunity of immigration to the United States for those with specific job skills who normally would not have the opportunity to come here.
Some of our greatest entrepreneurs would have been lost to us if we narrowly based the parameters of permitted immigration on higher scientific degrees. As noted by Forbes magazine, over 40 percent of the Fortune 500 companies were started by immigrants or their children. In 2011, the revenues generated by this 40 percent of the Fortune 500 were over $4.2 trillion, amounting to $1.7 trillion in gross domestic product (GDP), and exceeded the GDP of every country in the world except the United States, China and Japan. The list of such individuals and their corporations includes: Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple (immigrant parent from Syria), Walt Disney (immigrant parent from Canada), the founders of Oracle (Russia and Iran), IBM (Germany), Clorox (Ireland), Boeing (Germany), 3M (Canada) and Home Depot (Russia). Other companies started by immigrants or the children of immigrants are: AT&T, Budweiser, Colgate, eBay, General Electric, IBM and McDonalds. Who would have suspected that the United States’ most successful business innovators and, arguably, cultural innovators would be from Syria or Iran? Obviously not countries one would consider to be on the United States’ favored nation list to provide visas to their citizens. However, each of these individuals has positively contributed to our culture and created or revolutionized industries that are the financial giants in our country.
More relevantly, none of the original immigrants in these families would have qualified for a STEM visa. Instead, these individuals and their parents had other attributes — courage, a belief in progressive risk-taking and hard work. It takes a great deal of courage to uproot oneself and possibly a family and take a risk on a new country. Likewise, it takes the same courage, hard work and drive to start a new enterprise and develop it into a Fortune 500 company. These individuals are the job creators and we need to continue to attract them. How different would our national economy be if Apple or IBM had been founded in another country?
As a member of the Philadelphia Diversity Law Group (PDLG), I have interviewed a number of first-year law students who are children of immigrants. Additionally, by participating in other high school and college programs, I have had the opportunity to work with other students who are children of immigrants. Many of their parents received visas through the Diversity Visa Program and would not have qualified for STEM visas. The parents usually are hardworking individuals with manual skills and who are driven to make a better life for their children. More importantly, the students are driven to succeed, excel in school and contribute significantly to their school environments and communities. These are not merely my observations. A February 7 analysis by the Pew Research Center of the most recent Census Bureau data found that children of immigrants are more likely to do better than their parents on key socioeconomic attainment measures, obtain higher education and socially integrate into the larger society. Further, a greater majority of the children of immigrants believe in an ethic that hard work will lead to success. (See www.pewresearch.org.) Individuals who are willing to work hard and take the risks necessary to develop the future are the individuals who we want to attract to our country.
Therefore, we should make room for highly skilled workers through STEM visas, but not at the expense of losing the next generation of those who have historically proven to be the job creators for these highly skilled workers. As a nation, we want the technology jobs of the present to stay in the United States; however, we also should want the next generation of entrepreneurs to build their businesses in this country and help our economy to grow and prosper. The Diversity Visa Program provides an avenue for these ambitious immigrants to come and constructively add to our society. In short, the two programs should not be put at odds but used to complement one another. There must be room for both types of immigration for our country to maintain its position in the world’s economy. •
Wesley R. Payne IV is a partner at White and Williams. He is the chair of the firm’s diversity committee, a member of the executive committee, and co-chair of the firm’s homeless advocacy practice group. He primarily focuses his practice in the areas of insurance defense, bad faith, extra-contractual damages and coverage litigation. Payne may be reached at email@example.com.