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Businesses need immigrants

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As chairman of the Board of Directors and the president and CEO for the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, we believe that the need for Sen. Lindsey Graham and the “Gang of Eight” immigration plan is vital to both our local economy and the nation.

If this legislation isn’t passed in Washington and the status quo remains, we are hurting every business that depends on highly skilled workers and seasonal or temporary workers. That is why it is so important for our chamber and other business organizations around the county to vocalize their support of this legislation. Immigration reform is about jobs — jobs that are desperately needed in our country to enable economic growth.

Over the past two years, we have met one on one with more than 180 top employers in our region. When we talk to them about obstacles to grow and expand, the No. 1 issue is talent. Here in the Charleston region and across our country, employers can’t find the quality, skilled workers they need to fill current and future jobs.

In the innovation fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) the United States trains and educates the brightest minds in the world only to have those students return to their home countries to compete against us because the current immigration laws do not provide a clear or viable path for them to remain in our country.

Think about this: In 2011, 76 percent of patents developed at the top 10 U.S. patent-producing universities had immigrant inventors. A study by the American Enterprise Institute and the Partnership for a New American Economy found that every foreign-born post graduate degree trained in our universities and we keep in the U.S. working in the STEM fields creates an additional 2.62 jobs for American workers.

However, very few are allowed to remain and help an economy that has a shortage of STEM workers — our own. If this continues, by 2018 the U.S. will have an estimated 779,000 jobs that require a post-graduate STEM degree and only an estimated 555,000 degree holders.

In the hospitality industry, many businesses need to hire seasonal workers from outside of our country because they can’t find Americans who will take these jobs even at higher wages. These are temporary jobs that generally require lower skills. While these are temporary and seasonal, they are vital for businesses in the hospitality industry to be successful. In the years following 9/11, accessing this pool of eager workers has become difficult, increasing the declines in labor participation.

Our labor market is not a zero sum game, where a job either goes to an American or a foreign worker.

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When businesses large and small are able to staff to meet productivity needs, the result is business expansion, increased job creativity and growth for more Americans, not less.

So the question becomes, “How do we help our companies get the workers they need to grow?”

For far too long the immigration debate in our country is completely consumed by illegal immigration and border security. These two issues are fundamentally important and the proposed legislation addresses each.

But the larger immigration issue that is almost never discussed is that of the current legal immigration system’s arbitrary and hurtful constraints on American businesses that make it harder for them to grow and create American jobs.

It’s time for real solutions to the immigration problems that continue to stunt the local and American economy.

The Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce reaffirms our support of Sen. Lindsey Graham’s leadership in developing this bipartisan immigration deal.

We live in a global society. No longer are we competing against Georgia and North Carolina, now we are competing against India and China. In this modern economy we need modern immigration laws and Sen. Graham understands that.

If we are going to have a prosperous economy in the future we need your help! Please take the time to call Sen. Graham and thank him for his leadership.

We urge each of you to reach out your other elected officials in Washington and ask them to support the comprehensive immigration plan. American jobs depend on it.

Stuart Whiteside is chairman of the Board of Directors, and Bryan Derreberry is president and CEO, of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.

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