To Spur the Economy, U.S. Must Reform Legal Immigration

America will only stay competitive if it attracts entrepreneurial talent from around the world.

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Rich Beyer is the chairman and CEO of Freescale Semiconductor and a member of the Partnership for a New American Economy

We live in a technology-driven world. Virtually every aspect of our lives is made safer and more productive through the benefits of modern electronics. It is clear that the future of our global economy is based on engineering and applied technology. However, American industries are at risk due to a shortage of engineering talent. American students simply are not gravitating to engineering and technology fields.

There are two clear solutions to our problem. First and foremost, we must entice more American students to study the fields that will drive tomorrow's economy. We must dedicate more resources to K-12 education, with a particular focus on math and science education, and we should invest more in support of basic research at American colleges and universities. Second, as we implement these steps over the long term to maintain U.S. leadership in science and technology, we must also find the engineering talent to keep our companies competitive in the near term. And to do that, Congress must enact immigration reforms.

[Check out U.S. News's STEM Education Center.]

The immigration debate in America tends to focus on such aspects as illegal entry and border security; however, reforming the process for legal immigration is of vital importance to the country's economy. America is a nation of immigrants, and our remarkable economic success throughout history has much to do with the ideas brought to this country by those immigrants.

As the chairman and CEO of Freescale Semiconductor and as chairman of the Semiconductor Industry Association, I see firsthand the employment challenges faced by our industry. Finding talented individuals is often only half our problem. Getting permission to hire them is the other half. Many of the world's most talented engineers train in our universities and want to stay in America to work at places like Freescale, All too often our immigration laws turn them away, and they are driven to our competitors abroad. But, we can change this.

Groups like the Partnership for a New American Economy, a bipartisan coalition of more than 350 business leaders and mayors, are making the case that our ability to compete in the 21st century global marketplace will depend not only on access to resources or access to capital, but on access to talent. If we are serious about our economic future, we need to give American businesses the tools they need to succeed, and this includes access to the world's brightest minds who want to come here to make a better life for themselves.

[Read the U.S. News debate: Should H-1B Visas Be Easier to Get?]

Closing our doors to foreign talent and ideas is not what has made America so great. According to a new report by the Partnership for a New American Economy, over 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants, or the children of immigrants. Those companies now employ 10 million people worldwide and include some of America's best-known brands, including Apple, Google, and McDonald's. Fortune 500 companies founded by immigrants or children of immigrants have combined revenues of $4.2 trillion today and are responsible for seven of the 10 most valuable brands in the world.

Immigrants have played a critical role in America's history, and our country's success has been built on the combination of different cultures and ideas with market opportunity. Immigration reform would make America more attractive in the global marketplace, and it would also help the millions of Americans looking for jobs today. When small businesses are allowed to bring in the world's best engineers and when entrepreneurs are able to come here and start new businesses, they are able to grow here and eventually become large enough to employ many more Americans.

[See a slide show of Mort Zuckerman's 5 Ways to Create More Jobs.]

Now is the time to encourage business growth. America's economy will only be able to recover when our companies are able to expand, make profits and reinvest right here in our country, We need to develop our home-grown talent by improving math and science education in our primary and secondary schools, while also investing in basic research at our world-class universities.