Closed AmericaSimply stated, immigration reform is about economic growth. In Washington state alone, if undocumented immigrants followed a path to legal citizenship it would generate more than 12,700 jobs and more than $1.1 billion for the state, according to Regional Economic Models, Inc. Vital industries are facing substantial labor shortages, which could be filled by immigrant workers and ultimately drive job creation across the state.

Our broken immigration system is tying the hands of business owners and farmers from hiring necessary workers to operate their businesses. Additionally, our outdated system makes it highly challenging for foreign-born, Washington University educated, high skilled workers and innovators from having a chance to remain in the state. Meaningful immigration reform is critical to address these important issues facing our state’s economy.

Large and small companies in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (“STEM”) fields are facing significant labor shortages of high-skilled workers across the country, and Washington is no exception. A 2011 study by McKinsey and Company found that one in every four science and engineering firms reported hiring difficulties.

Unfortunately, American students pursuing careers in STEM fields is growing at less than one percent per year, yet according to the Partnership for a New American Economy, 47.3 percent of Engineering PhD graduates in Washington’s research-intensive universities are temporary residents. Although these students want to remain in the state and companies want to hire them, our fragmented immigration system imposes arbitrary limits to the number of high-skilled visas allowed each year. This forces a significant number of immigrants educated in our taxpayer funded universities to leave the country, while creating an unnecessarily problematic structure for our businesses to recruit essential workers.

The loss of educated and motivated immigrants has a substantial impact on job creation. In the STEM industry, an additional 4.3 jobs are created for every high skilled technology job filled. Moreover, new businesses are essential to drive job creation, and the rate at which immigrants start new businesses grew by more than 50 percent between 1996 and 2011. In fact, immigrant-owned businesses employ one out of every ten American workers at privately owned-companies and add more than $775 billion dollars of revenue to the Gross Domestic Product.

It is not acceptable to allow the loss of taxpayer dollars invested in the education of foreign-born students and then make it virtually impossible for them to remain in the United States to return our investment by driving job creation, and stimulating economic growth. The passage of meaningful immigration reform is long overdue, and I am calling on Congress to pass substantive reform legislation this year for Washington’s economy, and for our country as a whole.

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