City Leadership Discusses Immigration as Critical to Economic Competitiveness

Civic and business leaders in Columbus, Indiana discussed the critical role immigration and diversity plays in the city’s economic competitiveness within a global economy. The panel discussion, sponsored by the National Immigration Forum, was entitled “Challenges and Opportunities: Attracting and Retaining a Diverse American Workforce and a Primer on Immigration.”

China native Ryan Hou, CEO of a local engineering firm, was 1 of the 6 panelists at the event. According to a news report, Hou discussed his recruiting efforts to bring on engineers graduating from local Indiana schools. While foreign nationals make up 90 to 95 percent of grads, the wait time for gaining permanent residency status stifles the entire process.

After his own graduation as an engineer in the mid-1980’s when he gained permanent residency after a wait-time of only 6 months. By comparison, Chinese immigrants today wait an average of 7 years to gain permanent residency. Indian immigrants typically wait 10 years to gain the status.

“I can see the fear in my engineers,” Hou remarked.

The recruitment of foreign nationals plays a particularly important role for those companies competing on a global stage, said Lorrie Meyer. Meyer is the executive director of Global Talent Management at the area’s largest employer, Cummins Inc. From a character point of view, Meyer described foreign-born students as tending toward extreme intelligence and a strong work ethic.

“Beyond their academic excellence, foreign nationals often have diverse cultural backgrounds that make them ideally suited to work with a variety of international clients,” Meyer said.

Flaws of the U.S. immigration system are glaring, especially compared to the Canadian approach. “While the Canadian government regularly changes immigration policy depending on the country’s workforce needs, the United States hasn’t made substantive changes for more than 3 decades,” said panelist Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum. The result invites the creation of a “law-breaking society” where foreign-born workers skit U.S. immigration laws.

“Although only Congress can make the necessary policy changes, community members can play an important role by advocating for strategies that better integrate foreign-born workers into the U.S. economy,” said Noorani.

Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop, called immigrants an undeniable part of the local economy. “If we were deprived of immigrant labor, we’d all feel it– whether we acknowledge it or not. We are heavily invested in immigration– whether we understand it or not.”

In 6 of the last 10 years, the city of Columbus attracted more foreign-born workers than U.S. citizens from other parts of the country. Over the past decade, growth of the Latino population has climbed by 65 percent.