The debate we should be having about immigrants

By Maurie Cashman | Guest Column

Immigrants contribute to business in the United States in ways and degrees that are not commonly portrayed in 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 Kerr, a 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:

  • According to the Kaufman Index of Startup Activity, immigrants contribute disproportionately to entrepreneurship. In the United States, immigrants represent 27.5 percent of all entrepreneurs but only 13 percent of the population.
  • CNBC reports that more than 50 percent of billion-dollar startups are founded by immigrants and many of those startups were founded by immigrants on H-1B visas.
  • The National Foundation of American Policy (NFAP) has shown that immigrant-founded billion-dollar companies doubled their number of employees over the past two years.
  • Fifty-seven percent of the Bay Area’s STEM tech workers are immigrants
  • Over 40 percent of the scientists in our leading cancer research centers are immigrants.
  • We’re projected to have a shortage of 2 million engineers in the U.S. by 2022.
  • For the past 10 years, software engineering has been the most difficult job to fill in the United States. Business owners are willing to pay 10-20 percent above the market rate for top talent and engineers.


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 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:

  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.
  2. Adaptability. Immigrants must adapt to rapidly changing conditions to thrive in a new culture. Businesses are finding that rapid adaptation is necessary for success in today’s competitive environment.
  3. 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.
  4. Availability. Some of the larger sources of skilled immigrants like China, India and Turkey, place a high social value on science and engineering. We need to invest more in STEM education to develop more native talent. Nevertheless, we can’t acquire enough of these skills without immigrants.


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. •

Maurie Cashman is a member-owner of Agri-Management Farm Services LLC and manages its Aspen Grove Investments brand.