Matt Oppenheimer’s passion for immigration reform knows no borders. The Remitly CEO flew to New Delhi and camped outside the immigration office for hours after one of his founding employees was kicked out of the U.S. over visa complications.
Oppenheimer’s extreme measures worked, and that employee, Shivaas Gulati, was in the audience today at a press conference announcing the launch of the “Reason for Reform” campaign.
The initiative is part of a nationwide push for immigration reform, led by the Partnership for a New American Economy (NAE), a coalition of hundreds of politicians and business leaders. The NAE prepared comprehensive reports on the economic benefits of immigrants for each of the 51 states and immigration reform advocates hosted local events across the U.S. to present the findings.
Remitly, a platform that helps people send money abroad using their smartphones, hosted the launch event in Seattle. Oppenheimer has been a vocal advocate of immigration reform since leaving a position at Barclays Bank in Kenya to found Remitly.
“Broadly, U.S. immigration policy can create a more capable and efficient workforce, a fairer distribution of wages, and a more humane treatment of migrant families,” Oppenheimer said at the event. “Instead policies harm our country by making the United States less competitive and they threaten the livelihoods of millions of immigrants.”
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Immigrants comprise 13.2 percent of Washington’s population, contributing $8.1 billion in taxes in 2014, according to the NAE report. The study also found that 18 percent of entrepreneurs in the state are foreign-born.
Washington Technology Industry Association CEO Michael Schutzler, OneAmerica Executive Director Rich Stotlz, Seattle Chamber of Commerce President Maud Daudon, and Washington Growers League Executive Director Mike Gempler joined Oppenheimer at the launch event to present data from the study and call for reform.
Here are some additional findings from the report:
- Immigrants earned $30.9 billion in 2014, leaving them with $22.8 billion in spending power.
- Immigrant-owned businesses generated $1.2 billion in 2014.
- 141,483 people in Washington are employed at firms owned by immigrants — a statistic that doesn’t include large, publically owned firms.
- Nordstrom was originally founded by John W. Nordstrom, an immigrant from Sweden.
- Despite making up 13.2 percent of Washington’s population, immigrants represented 24 percent of all STEM workers in the state in 2014.
The NAE commissioned the report to bolster the stance that much of the tech and business world take: Immigrants benefit the economy.
“It is almost catastrophically stupid to think about the fact that we’re educating immigrants at some of the best universities in the world here and then we are deporting that expertise back to someplace — usually not home — usually back to some place that would happily take those folks that have been educated to start companies,” said Schutzler.
Reason for Reform and the NAE report are part of an ongoing effort by business leaders, and the tech industry in particular, to improve access to the international talent pool. Mark Zuckerberg has been advocating for immigration reform since 2013, when he launched FWD.us. Dozens of tech leaders including Microsoft Co-founder Bill Gates and LinkedIn Co-founder Reid Hoffman, have joined the Facebook CEO’s immigration lobbying group.
The Reason for Reform campaign announcement comes just four short months before a presidential election that hinges on immigration. Staunch anti-immigration policy is a cornerstone of Donald Trump’s campaign. If he is elected in November, reform will be an uphill battle for advocates of reform.
But, as Wall Street Journal reporter Reid Epstein notes, the NAE doesn’t seem to be preparing for that outcome. He explains:
“Though none of the officials interviewed would explicitly say that they believe Mrs. Clinton will defeat Republican Donald Trump in November, they are planning as if they will work with a White House friendly to measures like those included in an immigration bill that passed in the Senate in 2013. That legislation failed in the GOP-led House, in part because of backlash from Republican voters and threats of primary challenges to congressmen who backed it. Now, members of the Bloomberg-led coalition are openly suggesting they will make progress on immigration with a new administration in the White House.”
Still, speakers at today’s event in Seattle agreed unanimously that they would continue forward with their reform strategy no matter what happens in November.
“If in fact there was any administration or any legislator opposed to immigration reform we would become even more active about getting our facts on the ground,” said Schutzler.