An economic crisis looms in Washington State as a result of three actions by the new President and his team.
First, they have unilaterally withdrawn the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership without replacing it with a better deal. Next, the Administration has issued an executive order temporarily banning every person from seven countries — cutting off legal immigrant engineers, scientists, and entrepreneurs who are already well integrated here. And most recently, the President’s legal team has floated a draft executive order curtailing an entire set of work visas — cutting off the talented and industrious workforce we need in our State’s economy.
We are hopeful that the White House is still collecting input on this last draft to ensure a precise articulation and an effective implementation.
There are legitimate concerns buried in the emotionally charged arguments for each of the three actions, but these policies are like hurling a chainsaw in a place where a deftly applied scalpel is needed. This particular combination is dangerous for our State.
Although most days I speak for the tech industry, the Terrible Trifecta is not a tech issue. It is not a Republican or Democratic Party issue. This watershed moment affects every citizen of our State.
Today, I’d like to address three myths related to these Executive Branch actions and then I am going to recommend how you can help.
Myth 1: The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would have eliminated US jobs and allowed other countries with lower labor standards to compete unfairly against us.
In fact, the TPP would have saved and created jobs for Washington. It is true that multi-lateral trade agreements have caused job contraction. This is a fair criticism. The federal Department of Labor and the Washington Department of Labor & Industries must be adequately funded to provide the training and education for anyone whose loses a job as a result of a trade driven economic transition.
That said, Washington state annually ships more than $20 billion of food including beef, apples, and potatoes; $100 billion of airplanes; and $16 billion of high tech products and services mostly to Asian markets. The TPP was designed to reduce China’s influence in the region and level the playing field for American companies so that we could compete effectively. TPP required participating countries to move toward the higher levels of American labor standards and eliminated existing tariffs.
By unilaterally withdrawing from TPP, we alienated the 11 other countries that invested years negotiating and compromising to meet our demands. We also, at least for now, concede the field of negotiation to China – by far our biggest competitor in the region. Was TPP perfect?
Of course not, but it was vast improvement over the status quo. Killing TPP means reneging on agreements that have serious consequences for Washington’s export dependent economy. This action puts tens of thousands of jobs at risk and threatens a tax base essential for our state education and infrastructure investments.
Myth 2: The executive order temporarily banning legal immigrants and refugees from Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen will keep terrorists out.
In fact, this list doesn’t include a single nation that has caused a terrorist fatality in the U.S., which means the vetting process in place was already working. Most people would agree that refining and improving the efficacy of our refugee and immigration vetting process is a good idea. However, we can’t afford a one-size-fits-all immigration policy.
We need careful review of individual cases.
Washington state is served daily by thousands of talented scientists, inventors, engineers, and entrepreneurs from these seven nations. Whether by design or not, choosing these seven Muslim-majority countries serves as a signal to the world that America is closed for business and chooses its partners based on a religious litmus test. It also creates a grave concern among other nations that perhaps this is just the first in a series of travel bans. I’ve heard from international media outlets and local immigrants from other countries not on this list – the fear is palpable.
This is bad for America. And it’s especially bad for Washington.
Fear breeds economic constraint. The Life Sciences and Tech Industry drive our State’s economic growth and both require hope and optimism to succeed. Cutting off these seven nations is bad enough given the large number of people working here. Creating uncertainty and fear among other immigrants drives down investment, cuts productivity, and urges perfectly wonderful, talented people to seek refuge in Canada.
We already face tough competition for human and financial capital with Vancouver B.C. — this action makes it that much harder for us to compete. We must allow our legal residents to come and go so they can continue to work, build economic value, cure diseases, and create more jobs for Washingtonians.
Myth 3: Restricting visas including L-1, H-1B, and H-2A visas will force American employers to hire local talent.
First and foremost, these visas are not designed to displace American workers. The H-1B visa, for example, represents less than four percent of our tech workforce in Washington. They are among the best and brightest in the world and each of them help to create another seven jobs in the state economy.
The draft executive order restricting these three work visas, combined with another Presidential directive shutting off the entrepreneur visa work-around, (aka Entrepreneur Parole) limits our ability to develop new technologies, restricts our ability to train our future entrepreneurs and wreaks havoc on our ability to export apples, potatoes and beef to feed the world. Having said that, it’s a smart move to adjust the H-1B visa to focus on highly skilled tech workers and eliminate misuse by some outsourcing firms. The tech industry supports that change.
However, closing our borders to entrepreneurs who create jobs for Americans is a self-inflicted mortal wound. Nearly 75 percent of VC backed tech startups have been launched by immigrants. Almost every major technological advancement has been achieved thanks to immigrant experts on the team. The vast majority of our agricultural production and export business is built with the help of the H-2A. If we send our immigrant workforce away, then new jobs and inventions will not be created in Washington – they will be created by competing countries.
These matters are personal for me.
My dad was a refugee twice over. He was born in Lithuania and escaped with his mom, sister and brother from the advancing Russian front in 1944 as an eight-year-old boy. They dodged the war hiking at night for 1000 miles until they reached a reasonably safe place in eastern Germany. Then as a young man, he smuggled Russian military secrets from East to West Berlin to use as a bargaining chip to secure his asylum. But West Germans feared and despised their cousins from the east, so he located a U.S. company that sponsored him on a work permit and he immigrated with my mom to Chicago to start over once more. He worked three jobs, eventually became an American citizen, and then went on to co-found MapQuest.
Immigrants, like my dad, helped build this country. For those willing to work hard and take risks, America is the land of opportunity as much now as it has ever been. Those of us with the privilege of being born here owe it to our families and neighbors to embrace anyone who would help us build a better future.
The President likes Twitter — so join us in tweeting questions and challenges. If you support the bold legal moves by Governor Inslee and Attorney General Ferguson, then email, call or tweet your support. In any case, regardless of your political point of view, please help make the argument for Washington jobs, our economy and our future.
Please do not remain silent. This Terrible Trifecta challenges our resolve, but the mission to build a better future is worth the effort today.