Dear Rustbelt Bloggers:
Thank you (particularly Chris Varley, Ed Morrison, Jim Russell, Norm Roulet) for spreading the word on the proposal for new immigration law that would create “High Skill Immigration Zones” in the most distressed cities in the U.S. Jim (Pittsburgh Diaspora) has re-framed the issue as an opportunity to encourage Rustbelt economic development collaboration around immigration. Voices are now jumping into the fray from Youngstown, Erie, Buffalo, etc.
Five days ago, Chris Briem at Nullspace posted the following under the title “Rust Belt Globalization”: ”There is a blogosphere buzz over the impact new immigrants could have on rust belt regions.” I am inspired by this blogosphere buzz, the ideas that it generates, its potent network, and the potential is has to catalyze a movement. To hopefully keep the buzz ringing, I offer the following for further discussion, feedback, etc.
Considering the economic situation in the Rustbelt, and in light of the immigration waves that the Rustbelt previously attracted, there clearly is an opportunity for the Rustbelt Region to collaborate and drive a federal lobbying strategy to create immigration incentives that would attract companies to co-locate, remain, and grow within the zone.
Why would companies come? Because they would be free of many of the business-crushing immigration restrictions that severely limit their ability to hire foreign-born talent within U.S. borders --- the same talent demographic that is driving much of U.S.-based technology innovation and entrepreneurship.
Increasing number of U.S. high-tech companies are publicly stating that the primary reason they are off-shoring R&D and high-tech jobs is because U.S. immigration law prevents them from hiring immigrant talent within the U.S. due to archaic visa quotas that have NO relationship to market realities and the globalization of talent (the current H1B visa cap of 65,000 was established in 1990!).
For more on the economic development opportunities that are being suppressed due to unsound immigration policy on H1B visas, please see December, 2007 Policy Brief from the National Foundation for American Policy (which includes Ohio University Economist Richard Vedder), entitled “Driving Jobs & Innovation Offshore: The Impact of High Skill Immigration Restrictions on America”:
As several of you have eloquently stated, the proposal is intended to attract companies to locate and grow within the zone by reducing the barriers to hiring foreign talent. The hope would be that companies, some of whom are already outsourcing jobs due to immigration restrictions, would now consider “in-sourcing” those same jobs to U.S. based High Skill Immigration Zones.
Such new or expanded company operations within the Zone would clearly include the creation of new jobs for local workers. The cumulative effect of the Zone would hopefully be the accelerated creation of deep pools of talent (innovators, researchers, technology entrepreneurs, global business professionals, etc.), which in turn would attract other companies (even those not interested in the immigration incentives), stimulate the creation of new businesses and industries, help globalize the region, and create new opportunities that would serve as a magnet for people of all backgrounds to relocate or return to the Rustbelt.
A regional collaboration between Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Erie, Youngstown, Detroit/Ann Arbor, Buffalo, etc., may create a critical mass sufficient for successful H1B reform. In partnership with some of the largest non-Rustbelt technology companies in the world, a collaboration between Rustbelt technology companies, economic development orgs, foundations, and congressional leaders, might provide enough juice for a successful D.C. lobbying effort for 2009.
Thanks to Ed Morrison for informing us of Ann Arbor's recent High Skill Immigration Efforts:
For those who are interested, a bit of background on the Zone may help. First, we started to shop this idea of a "high skill immigration zone" to technology business leaders around the country this past spring while immigration law reform was hot in D.C
This proposal has received enthusiastic support from immigrant billionaire Michael Moritz (immigrant from Scotland), principal of Sequoia Capital in Silicon Valley, who was personally an early funder of immigrant-founded companies such as Google, Yahoo, and Paypal. The proposal also received interest from general counsels of Cisco and Infosys Technologies Ltd., the Director of the Software and Information Industry Association, Audrey Singer of Brookings, Joel Kotkin, Ellen Gallagher (Special Counsel, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service), and others.
The idea to create a Rust Belt Technology Playground for Immigrant Scientists, Engineers and Technology Entrepreneurs (high skill immigration zone) is based on existing law that creates incentives for immigrant talent and capital to locate in struggling or under-served geographic regions.
While the Investor Green Card Program creates incentives to attract foreign capital to distressed regions, we are similarly advocating for special incentives to attract foreign talent to distressed regions.
Creative Class guru Richard Florida has dismissed the proposal of a High Skill Immigration Zone as elitist, as inefficient, and as a undue limitation on an immigrant’s freedom to live where they wish. While I agree with Dr. Florida that is critical to promote a more open/welcoming attitude to all talent (regardless of education, economic strata, national origin, sexual orientation, etc.), I think that he underestimates the boost that high skill immigration legislation could have on rustbelt economies if tied to regional market indicators. I think that efforts to create a more tolerant attitude towards immigrants (see below) AND create new immigration law that reflects those attitudes and the special needs of struggling post-industrial cities, is a combination that needs to be aggressively pursued.
Many high skill immigrants are leaving the U.S. period, not just Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Youngstown, etc. for other U.S. cities. Upon graduation from our universities, international students are left with few opportunities to stay and work in the U.S. because of virtual non-existence of h1b professional worker visas. 65,000 H1b visas for 2007-2008 were exhausted on 1st day of application period; government received 115,000 applications on 4/1/07.
And this not even mentioning the chilling effect that low H1b numbers are having on those outside the U.S. contemplating a move to u.s. to study or work. A high-skill immigration zone would not restrain an immigrant’s choice on where to reside in the U.S., it would provide an opportunity for the immigrant to reside in the U.S. period AND provide necessary talent to a struggling region.
The focus of the proposal, however, is to attract companies with jobs to the Rustbelt and similarly situated regions. These jobs are already being outsourced from the U.S. because of the unavailability of U.S.-born talent, and the near-impossibility of U.S. companies to import those workers into the U.S. Just see the reasons give by Microsoft in setting up new R&D in Vancouver this summer.
Companies which are currently outsourcing these jobs overseas, would be very interested in a High Skill Immigration Zone that would allow them to establish operations in the zone without concern over immigration restrictions.
Thousands of high-tech jobs are going unfilled in the rustbelt due to talent shortage, and this shortage is negatively impacting company growth, expansion and retention.
As to criticism that a high-skill immigration proposal is elitist, one only has to glance at the violent and grossly intolerant national discourse in the U.S. this year on immigration to understand a political strategy that advocates first for high skill immigrants (trying to minimize the toxic political discourse associated with “lower skilled” immigrants who may compete with lower-skilled Americans for jobs). Even the relatively innocuous Dream Act was recently defeated in Congress, which would have granted immigration status to those who immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors and are now unable to enroll in college due to their immigration status.
While the fed govt is a highly suspect and at times immoral partner, the fed govt can not simply be dismissed as a non-resource. When it works, it can really change the game. They control the spigot, and can turn it on, off, and direct the flow, whenever it chooses. In my personal view, the #1 issue for high skill immigrant talent is right to work (visas) at high paying, high-challenge, cutting-edge jobs in their field, located near high-value educational opportunities for their young children, low cost of living, etc. Down the list, but still a priority, is how the general community embraces immigrant diversity.
We need a comprehensive fix to the myriad of immigration challenges that exist (particularly crafting an immigration legal system that is designed to fill U.S. workforce gaps and is in-synch with global market realities). But this void created by Congress' refusal to act does create an opportunity for cities to voice new policy ideas that could be "gamechangers" for rustbelt, shrinking economies, as a stand-alone pilot, or as part of a larger comprehensive fix (which has no chance until at least 2009, and possibly 2010) A geographic-specific and geographic-limited immigration fix on high-end talent (the High Skill Immigration Zone) is likely to be more politically viable than a wholesale national amelerioration of immigration restrictions on immigrant talent. I wish this were not the case.
Aside from new legislation, much can be done to create a more welcoming and open culture for new immigrants. I like approaches that marry immigrant integration/assistance initiatives with programs that help educate the mainstream community on the economic and cultural benefits of new immigration. See: a.) Pennsylvania: Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians is a great example that could be emulated in Ohio.
Other examples of welcoming initiatives include the following:
b.) New York City
http://www.popcitymedia.com/features/CLimmigrat1024.aspx http://www.pittsburghtoday.org/web/home.jsp http://www.useurl.us/17m http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07224/808779-109.stm http://www.diversecitypittsburgh.org/partners.html http://pittsblog.blogspot.com/2007/08/immigration-churn.html http://www.globalpittsburgh.org/communities/
k.) San Francisco & NYC
l.) Knight Foundation Immigrant Initiative http://www.knightfdn.org/default.asp?story=national/immigrants/index.asp
While only a 5 hour drive away, Cleveland (3 or 4% foreign born) and Toronto (50% foreign born) are worlds- apart in terms of attracting international talent, entrepreneurship and capital.
Toronto is a global city, prosperous and growing, in large measure because of its attitude and policy of global inclusion. In contrast, Halifax is a City Striving to Be Immigrant-Rich Cities like Toronto and Vancouver (40% foreign born) attract the lion's share of immigrant newcomers to Canada.
Infused with new entrepreneurship, innovation, and global diversity, those cities are thriving. On the other hand, only 7% of Halifax's population is foreign-born. Halifax and Nova Scotia are not thriving and not receiving the boost that immigrant newcomers bring to the economy. The leadership in Halifax and Nova Scotia have concluded that without a steady flow of new immigrant arrivals, the region will continue to suffer from depopulation, workforce shortages, and economic decline. Check out regional/state effort in Canada to attract immigrants to boost population, entrepreneurship, innovation in Halifax/Nova Scotia. The Mayor of Halifax is a leader on the transformative powers of immigrant influx:
A toolkit has been prepared to help small communities develop an immigrant-attraction strategy. It started out as a small effort a couple of years ago, but is gaining critical mass through immigrant leadership coalition, govt. funding, media campaign, etc.
Halifax has about 270,000 residents; the regional area of Halifax and surrounding cities has a population of 360,000. Nova Scotia has a population of about 950,0000. With govt, business, and grassroots leaders, they built, funded, and executed an immigration strategy that is working. See Halifax immigration print campaign & The Immigrant Experience Video Testimonials feature employers who have hired immigrants/international employees, immigrant/international employees themselves, and immigrant entrepreneurs.
Northeast Ohio has much work to do on this front. But the situation is improving. Rob Briggs, President of Gar Foundation in Akron, CEO of Fund for Our Economic Future, and Co-Chair of Knight Foundation, is overseeing a group of international, university, and immigrant leadership to explore discuss the creation of regional immigration strategy designed for growth.
A welcoming center for immigrant talent, entrepreneurship and capital was center stage. Ohio Governor Ted Strickland and other rustbelt governors would be well served to design an economic development model that recruits and integrates immigrant talent into the region (international students, immigrant technologists, immigrant technology entrepreneurs, immigrant small business owners). (Currently Ohio’s Third Frontier program designed to stimulate new technology industries in Ohio expressly prohibits non-citizens from participating in its internship program.
Despite the program’s website which shows an Asian face, the program’s exclusionary position --- likely unconstitutional as applied to U.S. Permanent Residents --- sends a strong “Not Welcome” signal to immigrant talent considering studying or working in Ohio) For more on the transformative power that immigrant tech entrepreneurs and innovators have in the knowledge-based economy, please see attached articles from:
The focus of the global talent movement in Northeast Ohio is being led by Mark Santo, President of the Cleveland Council on World Affairs. An international business lawyer and venture capitalist by trade, Mark has created "The Talent Blueprint" which outlines 6 key strategies to helping a region attract, integrate and retain global talent.
The legislative lobby front on high skill immigration zones is just one piece of the puzzle. Mark is hosting Vivek Wadhwa in Cleveland in January, for a presentation at the City Club of Cleveland, as well as the honored guest at the Immigrant & Minority Entrepreneur Networking Event (a prelude to forming a Northeast Ohio TiE Chapter, see www.tiesv.org )
Sorry for the length of the rant. Thanks for your support of global talent, and i look forward to hearing your thoughts on how we can develop a network of like-minded individiuals and organizations throughout the Rustbelt.