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Immigrants In Business – The Debate We Should Be Having

Immigrants contribute to business in the United States in ways and degrees that are not commonly portrayed in our public debate.  The situation on the Mexico/United States border is preventing us from discussing the important contributions immigrants from around the world make to our economy and the issues that we should be resolving to capture and accelerate these contributions.

William R. Kerr, Harvard Business School professor and the author of The Gift of Global Talent: How Migration Shapes Business, Economy & Society says we are having the wrong debate about immigration. America’s real problem is how to get more ‘talent immigrants’ into the country as they help drive the innovation economy.


Let’s start the discussion with a few facts:

We risk losing top talent to nations with less restrictive visa laws that allow more opportunities and types of visas for qualified immigrants.  How can we lead the charge of innovation if we don’t have the talent to do it?

This problem is not limited to the emerging tech industry.  Business owners from law firms to travel centers express difficulties finding and retaining employees who have skills and attitudes needed to perform jobs at all levels.  The low unemployment rate is exacerbating this issue.  Many are finding immigrants to be a reliable and beneficial solution.

Why Should We Consider Immigrant Labor?

Most of the businesses I have managed over the past 35 years have employed significant immigrant labor forces.  There are several traits that I have noted over that time:

  1. A growth mindset. Success in today’s business environment requires a growth mindset.  Growth demands that businesses view change as imperative, not optional.  This mindset is innate in many immigrants as growth is imperative to survival in their adopted country.


  1. Immigrants must adapt to rapidly changing conditions in order to thrive in a new culture. Businesses are increasingly finding that rapid adaptation is necessary for success in today’s competitive environment.


  1. Global Readiness. Immigrants have international experience and can accelerate a company’s learning about how to become a global company. They have a more global outlook on life itself.


  1. Some of the larger sources of skilled immigrants like China, India, and Turkey, place a very high social value on science and engineering. We certainly need to invest more in our STEM education to develop more native talent. Nevertheless, right now we can’t acquire enough of these skills without immigrants.


It is clear that immigration has a positive impact on many of our industries.  Immigrants contribute to major employers like Deere, Collins Aerospace and the University of Iowa.  They also have major impacts in agriculture, construction and food processing.  Addressing our immigration system can help us to compete.

“Today’s knowledge economy dictates that your ability to attract, develop, and integrate smart minds governs how prosperous you will be.”

–Bill Kerr

We have many opportunities in the Corridor to build businesses for the future.  A wide-ranging discussion on immigration can help us to prosper and grow.

This article appeared in the Corridor Business Journal on August 12, 2019.