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Many economic analysts and political pundits seriously blamed America’s immigration policy as one of the culprits for its economic crisis and inability to fast recovery. Others on the other hand strongly advocated for even stricter American immigration policy. Debates over immigration policy are older than America and the arguments, pro and con, have not changed much over the centuries. Traditionally, America’s immigration policy has been based on the belief that an unlimited number of people around the world want to move to America. Thus, America’s policy primarily needed to address who and how many would be allowed to come.
Today, however, there are two conditions unlike any before, and each will exert a significant impact on American immigration. First, America’s population is no longer growing on its own, so that most, if not all, growth for the foreseeable future will come from immigrants. Indeed, immigrants already make up half of all growth in the American workforce. Second, for the first time, America is being forced to compete with other countries for immigrants and the needed skills they bring.
One of the invariable rules of economics is that, if a government erects an obstacle to goods or services that people desire, the market will find a way around it. So it is that two young entrepreneurs, Dario Mutabdzija, an immigrant from Sarajevo, and Max Marty, the son of Cuban immigrants, came up with the idea of Blueseed, taking aim at the inadequate supply of American visas for enterprising foreigners.
Blueseed’s objective, as the New York Times describes it, is to “create a visa, free, floating incubator for international entrepreneurs off the California coast near Silicon Valley.” The idea is to anchor a large ocean vessel twelve miles offshore, just outside U.S. territorial limits, where foreign entrepreneurs who are unable to obtain one of the few American visas available every year can transact business with Silicon Valley firms and investors.
Mutabdzija and Marty said that their business is a response to overly restrictive immigration laws that make it extremely difficult for foreign talent to enter the United States. John Feinblatt of the Partnership for a New American Economy says: “The ship may sound like a crazy idea, but it illustrates how seriously flawed the immigration system here is.” Bob Dane of the Federation for American Immigration Reform was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that “the whole thing is a perfect metaphor for how, in corporate America, the practice to grow talent and incubate business locally is drifting away, quite literally.”
The floating entrepreneurial fortress may never drop anchor. But the fact that enterprising minds came to float such an idea speaks volumes about the state of American immigration policy. Historically a beacon of unfettered opportunity, America now turns away in epic numbers the world’s best and brightest. In the process, America is systematically laying waste its economic future.
America is different from any other country in many ways, but most significant is that its national identity derives not from a common ethnicity but from a set of ideals which are not just life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but individualism, faith, family, community, democracy, tolerance, equal opportunity, individual responsibility, and freedom of enterprise. Those ideals are set forth in America’s founding documents and enmeshed in its institutions.
But though America was founded on those ideas and continues largely to hold fast to them, America does not hold a monopoly over them. Quite the contrary, millions of people around the world cherish them and strive toward becoming Americans. Immigrants created America, and immigrants throughout its history have reinvigorated America’s ideals.
Immigration is an integral part of America’s lifeblood, no less today than in years past. Almost by definition, people who move to another place by choice are more fervent about their destination than many of those born there by chance. That is especially true of America, whose principal beacons are freedom and opportunity. Newcomers drawn by those beacons tend to value them, not unlike religious converts, with the great passion that derives only from past deprivation. Immigrants are unlikely to be complacent about the freedom and opportunity that for them were once only a dream and were gained through great effort and sacrifice. America constantly needs the replenishment of spirit that immigrants bring.
However, as per the recent Congressional report, America’s current immigration policy does not fully reflect the importance of immigration to the nation. America’s immigration laws are so complex, cumbersome and irrational that millions of people have circumvented them and entered the country illegally, inflicting grave damage to the rule of law that is America’s moral centerpiece. Others have given up and either tragically abandoned their hopes of becoming Americans or have gone home, depriving America of their energy and talent forever.
According to the Financial Times, left to follow its current path, the American economy is in a state of decline. Since World War II, the United States’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has averaged a 3% annual growth which is enough to sustain great prosperity, upward mobility and a generous social-welfare net. But the Congressional Budget Office projects that future GDP growth will average between 2% and 2.4% a year. In fact, that projection may be far too generous. In light of America’s anemic GDP growth of the past several years, by 2012 a 2% annual growth rate was being viewed as a reason to celebrate.
The decline in economic growth is attributable, among other factors, to fewer workers supporting more retirees, an increasing regulatory burden that stifles hiring and enterprise, the lack of a coherent energy policy, an education system that produces too few skilled graduates, and a massive debt that weighs heavily on the economy. If America could increase GDP growth to 4% annually, as advocated in a recent book, The 4% Solution, it would lead to greatly increased economic opportunities and prosperity and sharply reduced deficits.
Nobel laureate Economist, Gary S. Becker, explains that immigration increases a country’s human capital, and the number of workers available help businesses expand or innovators make that next big breakthrough. By increasing the size of a country’s workforce, immigration can also increase a country’s GDP. And because many immigrants are young, a healthy inflow can provide economic growth and tax revenues that older and retired workers depend on. He noted that, indeed over the past twenty-five years, the countries that have experienced the greatest economic growth have also had the highest rates of immigration.
But under the current U.S. system, immigration for skills and labor represents only a small fraction of the people allowed legally into America. People who enter on temporary student and worker visas often have to return to their native countries because there are not enough “green cards”, the authorization of permanent residency leading to citizenship. Meanwhile, millions of other immigrants lawfully admitted under an overly broad concept of family reunification may not contribute as much to economic growth, and millions of others reside in America unlawfully because there are too few ways to immigrate lawfully.
Many analysts believe the chasm over immigration policy can be bridged by recourse to two fundamental values: recognizing the central role of immigration in America’s identity and prosperity, and adhering to the rule of law in enforcing its immigration policy. It is perhaps more essential than ever before that America brings in enough young, energetic, hard-working, and talented immigrants. As in other industrialized nations, America’s birthrate has fallen below the level needed to replace the current population.
That places enormous strains on America’s social welfare system as fewer and fewer workers sustain an ever expanding population of elderly beneficiaries. The late Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman, whom Americans greatly admired, once famously remarked: “It’s just obvious you can’t have free immigration and a welfare state.” A corollary of that is America cannot sustain a generous social-welfare program, a system upon which millions of Americans depend, if it does not increase the numbers of productive, contributing participants in its workforce. And demographic trends strongly suggest that the only way America can do that is through immigration.