Immigrant Talent: The Next Frontier in Diversity and Workforce Evolution

October 20, 2016


As the National Minority Supplier Development Council’s 2016 Conference and Business Opportunity Exchange draws near, we’ve spent the past few weeks writing about issues of inclusion. The event, which we hope to see you at, runs from October 23 to October 26. Yet its spirit — the importance of nurturing a rich business culture through diverse talent — infuses our industry every day. The case for diversity is well established: it bolsters productivity, spurs innovation, exposes us to new perspectives and revelations, and it drives economic progress. Beyond that, actively championing an inclusive workforce empowers all talent and provides them with opportunities to contribute. Nothing speaks to the heart of diversity as much as immigration. Right now, across the world, that topic dominates the political discourse and national conversations of many countries. Let’s look at how embracing immigrant talent will strengthen our businesses. And some new technology is removing the obstacles.

Immigration in the Spotlight

The old fears about immigration have sadly resurfaced. Immigrants will steal our jobs, they don’t pay taxes, they burden the economy. We’ve heard it before. And it’s untrue.

One year ago this month, Luk N. Van Wassenhove and Othman Boufaied discussed in Harvard Business Review how Europe was poised to capitalize on the skills of refugees to build a better workforce. The authors note the importance of perception — of recognizing that individuals escaping violence or oppression aren’t motivated by the promise of handouts from their host countries: “They want to work in order to create some semblance of a normal life for their families. They are keen to contribute to the countries that have taken them in, for which they are often profoundly grateful.”

Then came the British Exit, or Brexit. It was promoted as a referendum on the shortcomings of the European Union (EU). To many younger Britons, those unable to vote, it became a referendum on youth, culture and diversity. For some time, older Brits and traditionalist leaders in neighboring countries have made cases for isolationism predicated on anti-immigration and anti-Islamic attitudes. These polemics culminated in the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the EU. The issues also encompassed gender parity, LGBTQ rights, socialization of vital services, accountability and restraints on financial markets, and a host of other challenges.

Immigration factors mightily in the opportunities available to working Millennials. With Brexit, the younger generations have lost the right to live and work in nearly 30 countries. They also now bear the burden of inheriting a debt they can’t reconcile. The reality is that by attempting to kill immigration, voters may have hobbled their own futures. Instead of facilitating the exploration of meaningful employment opportunities in global markets, Brexit supporters attenuated prospective labor pools. The upcoming election in United States is filled with similar rhetoric.

Immigration is a Boon to Business Growth

As the Atlantic Magazine explored in a related article, immigration has proven to be a revitalizing force in the U.S. labor market:

From 2006 to 2012, more than two-fifths of the start-up tech companies in Silicon Valley had at least one foreign-born founder, according to the Kauffman Foundation. A report by the Partnership for a New American Economy, which advocates for immigrants in the U.S. workforce, found that they accounted for 28 percent of all new small businesses in 2011.

Immigrants also hold a third of the internationally valid patents issued to U.S. residents, according to University of California (Davis) economist Giovanni Peri. In a 2012 article published by the Cato Institute, the libertarian (and pro-immigration) think tank, Peri concluded that immigrants boost economic productivity and don’t have a notable impact—either positive or negative—on net job growth for U.S.-born workers. One reason: Immigrants and native-born workers gravitate toward different jobs.

The value of immigrant talent goes well beyond gratitude and commitment. In many cases, these new citizens are highly trained and in command of desperately needed skills. They can play a vital role in restoring and strengthening the hobbled economies that suffered through a worldwide financial crisis over the past six years. In Europe as in the United States, there exist key sectors where a deficit of qualified job seekers has become a chronic problem. Unfavorable demographics, aging Boomers and lower birth rates are putting more strain on social systems than the presence of immigrants.

This is precisely why German Chancellor Angela Merkel relaxed the Dublin rules to accommodate refugees from Syria. Germany has a long history of positive gains from welcoming outsiders. In 2012, the 6.6 million people living in Germany with foreign passports paid $ 4,127 more in taxes and social security than they accepted in state-sponsored benefits. Immigrant talent generated a surplus of €22 billion that same year. Here in the States, we’re witnessing similar trends. As our older talent begin to phase out of the labor force, younger foreign workers with crucial skills could help offset the contributions of the Boomers as a fresh source of tax revenues, consumerism and productivity. And like Germany, U.S. data already demonstrate this potential.

  • Immigrants open businesses twice as often as native-born Americans.
  • They are verifiably more likely to work instead of collecting unemployment or other public assistance.
  • They are not stealing jobs from Americans, according to 27 separate studies performed in 2014.
  • “In 2010,” the Center for American Progress noted, “immigrant-founded small businesses generated more than $ 775 billion in sales and $ 100 billion in income and paid more than $ 126 billion in payroll taxes.”
  • In 2013, immigrants added $ 1.6 trillion to the U.S. gross domestic product.
  • Economists found that by complementing the abilities of native-born workers, immigrant talent measurably improve the standard of living for all Americans.
  • Even the 11.3 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States today contribute $ 11.64 billion in state and local taxes each year.

Even more compelling are U.S. Census Bureau statistics showing that 11.6 percent of immigrants have a master’s degree, professional degree or doctorate degree, compared with 10.8 percent of the native-born U.S. population. Immigrants account for nearly 28 percent of physicians, more than 31 percent of computer programmers and over 47 percent of medical scientists. If you ask the Center for Immigration Studies whether we have a deficit of available STEM workers in the States, the answer is a resounding “no.”

The problem? Less than half of immigrants with STEM degrees work in related jobs. In 2011, for example, more than 1.6 million college-educated immigrants were working unskilled jobs as dishwashers, security guards or cabbies.

“This situation represents a waste of human capital affecting nearly 23 percent of skilled immigrants,” the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) stated. Meanwhile, annual caps on work visas force thousands of immigrants with advanced degrees to leave the United States each year. And in many cases, U.S. employers and government agencies don’t recognize foreign-degrees or qualify them through available education equivalence offerings. It’s a situation that’s existed for years, and it’s doing little to sate a labor force starved for skilled talent.

Paving the Way to Prosperity Through Immigrant Talent

Education Equivalency

Most refugees face an uphill battle in getting their host countries to accept their domestic qualifications, and these individuals don’t often have the capital to re-qualify. They instead take unskilled jobs in order to pay the bills and put food on their tables. Foreign education equivalency programs solve this problem.

The good news is that these types of organizations operate in America. Although no single authority exist in the United States for the recognition of foreign degrees and other qualifications, the U.S. Department of Education endorses credential evaluation services — independent organizations that analyze non-U.S. qualifications and issue recommendations “as to how a particular qualification compares to a similar qualification or set of qualifications in the U.S. education system, labor market or the professions.” In fact, there are many accredited organizations already supported by the NACES.

Business and Government Outreach

Some progressive private sector enterprises have realized the advantages of courting immigrant talent. Banks such as Citigroup and BB&T have been hosting educational forums to help these job seekers receive valid work permits. American Eagle has created a program to help foreign-born workers learn English and apply for citizenship. Several cities across the United States have also adopted efforts to redevelop largely immigrant communities and partner with local government to facilitate language training and citizenship applications.


One of the most fascinating developments has arrived in the form of technology. A product called VISANOW is changing the game for businesses interested in procuring skilled immigrant talent. The platform automates the visa application process “from start to finish with an intuitive questionnaire, online document uploading and simple task management.”

VISANOW also delivers a centralized Communication Center, which allows business and HR users to collaborate with attorneys, internal stakeholders and workers. “Employees have direct access to attorneys and the support team,” VISANOW says. “You’re no longer the middle man.”

Because tracking and reporting are critical factors, the platform provides a Visa Organizer that displays a real-time overview of application due dates and upcoming expirations. Beyond that, it allows users to monitor the progress of cases and applications, pose questions and assign action items to team members.

For contingent workforce professionals, VISANOW could provide an entirely new channel for recruiting the world’s best talent — in a streamlined manner. It would be interesting to see how the product matures and if contingent workforce technologies find a way to integrate VISANOW. With VMS leaders working feverishly to incorporate modules such as online recruiting, freelancer management and independent contractor compliance, VISANOW could become another element in an increasingly comprehensive talent ecosystem.

Immigrant Talent: Making Our World Smaller and Our Businesses Bigger

In this heated political season, there will remain individuals who contest the notion that immigrant talent contribute to the power of the nation and its economy. Yet, where would we be without foreign-born workers who want to seize the opportunities this country offers and make a difference? Some of our most influential business leaders came to these shores from abroad: Google’s Sergey Brin, Yahoo’s Jerry Yang and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella.

It’s not anecdotal: immigrants bring more than exotic cuisine to our culture. In an era of skills shortages, unfilled jobs and an aging workforce, we need to innovate through diverse global perspectives. Embracing what foreign talent have to offer is the next step on that journey.

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Author: Sunil Bagai