I came to the United States 21 years ago, having left my home country of Bangladesh to attend a premier university and pursue the American Dream. I started a business that promotes the values of lifelong learning. Currently, I am the CEO of NetCom Learning, a multimillion-dollar business, which has been listed in the Inc. 500 as one of the fastest-growing companies in the nation.
As both an immigrant and a CEO, I have witnessed firsthand the importance of immigrants to the future of our nation, and how attracting and retaining the best talent is especially important during a recession. However, for many immigrants today, my dream cannot be reality. There is no entrepreneur's visa, and there is a drastic shortage of visas for skilled workers. That drives many of the world's brightest, most creative and innovative minds abroad.
It is time for a change. Not only are smarter immigration laws necessary for our economic future, but our prosperity depends on removing the obstacles that turn tomorrow's job creators away. This why I joined the Partnership for a New American Economy (renewoureconomy.org), a bipartisan group of more than 400 business leaders and mayors from across the country calling for a new debate on immigration reform.
If there is any hope of turning our economy around and reclaiming our position as a global leader, we need a workforce that is capable of filling highly-skilled positions in the STEM fields -- science, technology, engineering and math. To that end, the United States should allow foreign students who come here and attend our universities to stay here, rather than send them packing so they can equip our competitors.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 40 of the world's top 50 universities are located in the United States. However, due to our antiquated immigration system, they are unable to obtain green cards and contribute their talents to businesses across our nation. We are thus driving the many skilled international students we attract to leave the country once they've received an American education.
A recent report from the Partnership for a New American Economy highlights the real threat of this "brain drain." According to the report, our country faces a projected shortfall of 230,000 qualified advanced-degree STEM workers by 2018. This shortfall of talent means companies will continue to move business ventures overseas to retain the talent they need, creating more jobs abroad that otherwise could have stayed on U.S. soil.
Immigrants have created new ideas, new businesses, new skills and new markets since our nation's founding. Considering that more than 40 percent of American Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants, the turning away of brilliant foreign-born students and entrepreneurs could potentially cost us new patents and innovations, and the businesses and jobs associated with them.
The notion that immigrants steal jobs from Americans is another misconception that is holding the United States back from making progress on meaningful immigration reform. The right engineer or scientist can create an entirely new product line or division, which can in turn lead to scores of American jobs. According to a recent study conducted by the American Enterprise Institute and the Partnership for a New American Economy, for every foreign student with an advanced degree from a U.S. university working in a STEM field, 2.6 jobs will be created for native-born Americans.
America must create environment conducive to the economic promise and prosperity this great nation was once known for. It must welcome and support immigrant students and entrepreneurs before they leave for other countries that are quickly becoming our competition in the global race for talent.
The time to take action on legal immigration reform is now. Our future depends on it.
Russell Sarder is an entrepreneur, author, chairman and CEO of NetCom Learning, and a member of the Partnership for a New American Economy.