Since before its founding, America has been a magnet for the world's brightest minds. Every generation, millions of hard-working, risk-taking immigrants come in search of a better life promised by the American dream. And, every generation, this new influx of energy and innovation spurs our economy to greater heights.
Last week's tepid job numbers are a reminder that we still have a long way to go before we rebound from the current recession. As we think of ways to jump-start our economy, we should reflect on how America achieved economic dominance in the first place. What is clear from our history is that a chief factor behind our economic success has been our openness and attractiveness to job creators.
According to a new report by the bipartisan Partnership for a New American Economy (http://www.RenewOurEconomy.org), more than 40 percent of America's Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or children of immigrants. These companies now employ 10 million people worldwide and generate revenue greater than the gross national product of every country other than the United States, China and Japan.
The job creators of tomorrow do not have to come here. If we do not provide a legal means for them to come, they won't. Our immigration laws as currently enforced make it too easy to come (and stay) here illegally, but erect arbitrary and costly barriers to foreign talent who want to enter legally and participate in the American dream. The result: the job creation and growth of American companies slows. Our economic future depends, in part, on fixing our broken immigration system.
Reforming our immigration laws is a surefire way to put more Americans back to work. Immigrants fill gaps in our economy that allow current businesses to expand and create new jobs. Immigrants are also twice as likely to start a business. Thousands of entrepreneurs, engineers, scientists, mathematicians and other highly-skilled workers are ready to come here and propel our economy forward. Yet, our current immigration system stands in the way.
A similar story exists for low-skilled workers. The Department of Agriculture estimates that every temporary farm worker visa issued creates three additional jobs. These workers create a need for managers, for suppliers and for shippers. And without adequate access to these workers, we lose managerial jobs, tourism dollars and tax revenue that could drive our sputtering economy.
It is irresponsible not to act both at state and federal levels. Our economy needs more work visas for entrepreneurs who start companies and for the workers our companies need to grow. Our economy needs the government to remove the arbitrary caps, set 20 years ago, on the number of highly-skilled workers who can work temporarily in the United States. While these changes will not cure all our economic ills, they are necessary to get our country back on the right track.
Many of our nation's greatest companies including AT&T, U.S. Steel, General Electric, Proctor & Gamble, IBM, Google, Intel and Apple owe their existence to the influx of immigrants into this country. For our future, we need to ensure that America continues to be an incubator for great ideas. In order to achieve this, we must balance the important need for border security with actions that ensure we remain a magnet for the world's talent. We want tomorrow's AT&T, tomorrow's Google, tomorrow's Proctor & Gamble, to be founded on our shores.
This is why I was an early supporter of the Utah Compact (http://www.theutahcompact.com) and why I recently joined the Partnership for a New American Economy. Each of these efforts brings together business, civic and government leaders with ordinary citizens to make the case that immigration reform is an economic necessity.
Reforming our immigration system will not solve all of our economic troubles, but the reforms offered by these efforts are practical, workable solutions that will help get America working again. I encourage more business leaders to get involved, and our government leaders to act by adopting meaningful immigration reform.
Jonathan E. Johnson III is the president of Salt Lake City-based O.co (aka Overstock.com).