BY ZENON CHRISTODOULOU
New Jersey has led the nation by opening its shores to the global community of vibrant immigrants for hundreds of years and has richly benefited from the diversity and competitive drive they embody. The Statue of Liberty stands as a firm reminder of America’s founding principles and as a beacon of hope for the world to emulate.
At almost 30%, NJ claims one of the highest rates of foreign-born workers in the country. I am a beneficiary of NJ’s Greek immigrant experience and proudly claim membership to many ethnic organizations that make our state so unique.
As the immigration debate continues to divide our nation, many are becoming more comfortable with xenophobic rhetoric and the thought of isolationism. This makes it more vital than ever to remember the unique benefits that immigration has generated for NJ’s communities and for America’s ability to compete in the global marketplace.
The unintended consequences of focusing inward are making our nation less appealing to the world community and our principled voice less powerful. The loss of talented immigrants will reduce our critical supply of entrepreneurs, investment capital and productive labor. NJ’s next governor must have the global wherewithal to support the American ideals that have served us for centuries, to defend the rights of those searching for a better life and to promote the virtues of immigration.
Accepting the best and the brightest from around the world has enabled the US to generate unprecedented wealth and to achieve our unique status in global history. We cannot ignore the policies that created our Shining City on a Hill. We are the envy of the world and must remain a beacon of hope and opportunity by welcoming those who are willing and eager to maintain our innovative economy and productive workforce. Policymakers should do everything possible to attract them and their talents.
The contributions that immigrants make to the vital sectors of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are critical to NJ’s continued economic success. Over 50% of NJ’s STEM PhDs are foreign-born, as are STEM graduates from the state’s most research-intensive universities.
According to The Partnership for a New American Economy, immigrants and the children of immigrants create a disproportionately high percentage of all new businesses in the U.S. and account for over 40% of Fortune 500 companies. Not only do the vast majority of immigrants embrace the spirit of American Exceptionalism and a fervent desire to succeed, but they also bring a global perspective that is critically important in a shrinking and globally integrated world.
Currently, NJ is suffering from an outmigration of college graduates and a tax migration of wealthier New Jerseyans to lower-tax states. This outflow must be buttressed by an alternate source of creativity, investment and talent. Immigration can supplement these much-needed resources, re-invigorate the economy and raise our standard of living for the long run.
American immigration policies do more than alter the composition of our national populace and have consequences far beyond our borders. The belief in America’s openness and opportunity, which has made us the envy of the world, is in jeopardy of being lost and with it the appeal we present to immigrants from around the world.
Those who lose their incentive to migrate to the US will search for other destinations that provide easier opportunities for them and better lives for their families. These more hospitable alternatives will gain the benefits that their unique skills sets and determination bring, thereby reducing America’s competitive advantage.
Globally, immigrants are observed to be more innovative than those from local populations. Asians in Kenya, Greeks in Australia and Haitians or Cubans in Florida each show higher rates of entrepreneurship in their adopted homeland than do their local counterparts. We should be mindful of this dynamic.
Although America may be the best place to relocate and invest, it doesn’t have a monopoly on opportunity. Immigrants and ethnic entrepreneurs who supply a critical component to the economic equation are, by definition, willing to relocate; if they don’t come to the US, they will explore other options. Without a national policy and public sentiment that welcome them, they will respond to prevailing market cues and find more hospitable destinations elsewhere.
An accommodating immigration policy and the ambitious workers it attracts mean more competitive strategies, more nimble businesses and a higher standard of living. NJ’s next governor must be prepared to fight against Washington’s shortsighted effort to erect barriers against the flow of immigrants and, with it, the unintended consequence of alienating the very people who have helped generate the benefits we enjoy today.
To keep America the most competitive, productive, innovative and wealthy nation in the history, lets hope that NJ will continue to lead the nation by fighting to welcome those who share the American dream and are yearning to breathe free.
Dr. Zenon Christodoulou, Management Consultant and Adjunct professor of business strategy