Immigration Reform Key to Small Business, Economic Success

Huffington Post

Arnulfo Ventura considers himself one of the lucky ones.

Most people might say hard work had more to do with it than luck, given what he had to do to achieve the success he has today—owning and operating Coba, a successful Mexican beverage company in Los Angeles. The son of Mexican immigrants, whose mother cleaned houses and father served in the Army in Vietnam, worked tirelessly to receive the Pell Grant that enabled him to get his degree from UC Berkeley and MBA from Stanford. He then put that Masters in business to work and started his company—something every single one of the 28 million entrepreneurs in this country will tell you takes tremendous hard work and determination. But this is where Arnulfo’s “luck” came into play.

About 40 percent of Arnulfo’s business school classmates at Stanford were foreign students. Come graduation, nearly all of them tried to stay in this country, many looking to start their own businesses, just like Arnulfo. But they weren’t so lucky. Most were forced to leave because of our nation’s immigration system. Arnulfo, the son of immigrants, got to stay in this country and realize his dream and, in the process, give 10 people jobs and offer Americans a new product.

Sending talented individuals away—individuals who could make meaningful, even groundbreaking contributions to our economy—is just one piece of our broken immigration system that needs to be fixed. It makes no sense to educate talented foreign-born students and force them to leave upon graduation—just when they are about to begin contributing to the economy by working, innovating, starting new businesses and, perhaps, creating new jobs. We need immigration policies that give immigrant entrepreneurs a clear way to navigate opportunities to start and grow a business in this country.

Small Business Majority released opinion polling this week that found the majority of small business owners feel the same way Arnulfo does, and see immigration reform as a crucial rung in the ladder to small business and overall economic success. A sweeping 87 percent of small employers believe our immigration system is broken, and a large majority support comprehensive immigration proposals currently on the table to fix it.

Like Arnulfo, they recognize the need to allow not only more high-skilled workers into this country, but more low-skilled workers, as well. When you look at their labor needs, it makes sense why they feel this way. One in five small business owners who have hired immigrants say it’s because they can’t find enough U.S. citizens to fill jobs.

What’s more, many small employers who have chosen to hire immigrants say one of the biggest challenges they face in using immigrant labor is concern about following the letter of the law: next to differences in language and culture, a combined 41 percent cite concerns about whether they are complying with the law in hiring immigrants and the time and expense involved in verifying legal workers. This underscores why it’s critical to improve our immigration system and make it easier for employers to understand and comply with its requirements.

The current reform proposal being hammered out in the Senate by the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” takes aim at many of these concerns. And small businesses strongly support every component of the plan we asked them about. Eighty-three percent of small employers support increasing the number of visas for legal immigrants who have advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. Another 87 percent support requiring illegal immigrants with no criminal record to register for legal status, pass a background check, learn English, pay a fine and pay taxes. A vast three quarters agree we would be better off if people who are in the country illegally became legal taxpayers, so they pay their fair share and can work toward citizenship in the future. And three in four owners support revamping the guest worker system to create a new worker visa, eventually letting immigrants move beyond temporary status and switch employers to protect themselves against unscrupulous ones.

All these reforms, if passed by Congress, will help small business owners looking to employ immigrants feel more comfortable about their hires, give immigrants who want to become small business owners the opportunity to do so and put much-needed tax dollars into our country’s coffers, helping the economy on the whole.

It’s easy to see why small businesses support comprehensive immigration reform. For small business owners like Arnulfo, for which immigration is near and dear to his heart, it’s clear why he supports reform. However, of the small business owners we polled, 1 in 5 were sons or daughters or immigrants and 1 in 10 were immigrants themselves. That means the majority of small businesses don’t have the tie to this issue Arnulfo has, but still feel strongly that immigration reform is needed for the good of small business and the country.

In essence, small employers believe fixing the system will help them more easily tap into the immigrant labor workforce, make their existing workforces more stable, make them more competitive and help aspiring immigrants become entrepreneurs. Clearly immigration reform is crucial for current and aspiring small business owners’ pathway to success.

John Arensmeyer is the Founder & CEO of Small Business Majority

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