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Tom Donohue: Immigrant Entrepreneurs Remain Vital to U.S. Economy

We need a rational immigration policy that values the energy and innovation of enterprising foreigners

We are a nation of immigrants bound together by the unique American ideals of individual freedom and responsibility and driven by the limitless opportunities of free enterprise. These powerful draws of freedom and opportunity have brought the world’s best and brightest to our shores for generations.

Immigrants helped lay the economic foundation of our country, and they can play an equally important role in our future. Today, as we face a sluggish recovery and persistently high unemployment, the energy, ideas, hard work and determination of immigrant entrepreneurs are strengthening our efforts to grow the economy, create jobs and keep America competitive.

The contributions that immigrant entrepreneurs make to our economy are evident in enterprises large and small. They are helping rejuvenate their own communities and create employment opportunities for their neighbors through local real estate ventures, ethnic food stores, restaurants and retail services. In many cases, they see a need, come up with an idea to meet it, and enrich themselves and their neighborhoods in the process.

They are tapping into high-growth sectors and starting businesses in food manufacturing, transportation, construction, money transfer and travel services, and tourism. These growth businesses put Americans to work at home and often connect our markets with customers outside of the United States.

Foreign-born entrepreneurs are also helping keep America on the leading edge of innovation and at the forefront of engineering, technology and science. A quarter of our scientists and engineers are foreigners, and so are more than half of the graduate and Ph.D. students studying high-tech disciplines at U.S. institutions. We need them to contribute their skills to U.S. enterprises to draw global investment, create jobs for our workers and grow our economy.

If we’re going to continue to attract and retain the world’s most creative entrepreneurs who want to better their lives and add to our economy, we’ve got to adopt a rational immigration policy that harnesses the energy and innovation of enterprising foreigners. We’ve got to cut the red tape that holds back aspiring immigrant entrepreneurs. We need visa reform to welcome job creators of every size and sector. And we must make it easier for high-skilled immigrants and foreign graduates of U.S. institutions to invest their talents in our knowledge economy.

If we don’t, we’ll send innovation to our competitors at the expense of our own economic growth and job creation.

America was built on the hard work, sacrifice, creativity and dreams of immigrants. They can help drive our revitalization.

— Tom Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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