An Industry Defining Moment: Immigration Reform


The issue of immigration reform is an ugly one. It is highly politicized, polarized, publicly debated issue that has roots into other socio issues like family values, crime and economics. In an industry that promotes the used of science based regulations, that itself is highly regulated, and constantly pushing back on issues that look to create barriers and increase costs.

Why would the issue of immigration reform hold water with other industry defining issues like patent reform or the medical device tax?  Is this not an issue that mainly impacts food service, agriculture, manufacturing and construction industries? The short answer is, it is a huge issue for the high-tech industry (med/health/life sciences).

High-tech is reliant on talent and innovation to create new markets and disruptive technologies. It is encompassed in the idea that we need to foster and build a innovation based economy. And until we create a master race of highly intelligent robot overlords, the innovation part of the economy comes in the form of human capital.

We are an industry reliant on highly educated workforce. In Illinois over the course of the next five years, our economy is projected to need nearly 320,000 STEM jobs, up from 266,000 in 2008. According to May Catalyst article by the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition (ISTC),  immigrant students in Illinois earning STEM degrees  now represent nearly one out of every four (24%) Illinois graduates in those fields (up from 18% between 2011 and 2012). Nearly half of the students earning masters and Ph.d’s were temporary resident immigrants, many of whom did not stay in the US.

There is a direct connection between immigration and the commercialization of innovation in Illinois. Our startup industry here is getting exciting, we are making large investments into the necessary infrastructure needed to grow an industry. Building out proof-of-concept facilities and education and community building/connecting centers like MATTER. We are also investing in policy to attract investment into our community at the state level, and Mayor Emanuel is hosting a venture summit, featuring Chicago’s top industries and companies to investment opportunities outside of our boarders.

ISTC conducted a survey of Illinois’ Universities and found that from 2010 to 2013, Illinois universities produced a total of 354 start-ups across a range of industries. Of these start-ups, 283 are still active. 30% of those companies, were started by an immigrant founder or co-founder. For certain institutions like, IIT, that percentage is actually higher, closer to 50%.

This morning I am attending an event by the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition, featuring a lineup of Illinois top state and federal political capital, all calling for Speaker Boehner to call the issue to the floor.

Here is the audio from the Coalition meeting:


In order of appearance:

Pat Magoon, President, Lurie Children’s Hospital
Alejandro Silva, CEO, Evans group
John Atkinson, Willis Group
Susan Patel, Patel Handicrafts
Rich Guebert Jr, Presidnet, Illinois Farm Bureau
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn
Illinois Senate President John Cullerton
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel
Congressman Luis Gutierrez
Congressman Jan Schakowsky
Congressman Mike Quigley
Congressman Tammy Duckworth
Congressman Bill Foster
Congressman Robin Kelly
Congressman Brad Schneider