I’ve been spending a lot of time among immigrants lately.
Last week, I witnessed 1,000 immigrants from 97 countries take their oath of alligence during a U.S. Immigration and Naturalization ceremony in Oakland, California.
I’ve also worked closely with recent immigrants to the U.S. as a volunteer at Berkeley-based Upwardly Global, an NGO that assists with job skills and placement services for skilled immigrants.
With immigration reform topping the list of agenda concerns here at home, I’ll share some brief notes — with a decidedly global perspective, backed by some recent personal experiences — on this fascinating and timely topic.
Contrary to some recent heated rhetoric, immigration is increasingly a driver of economic growth and technological innovation among advanced economies throughout much of the world today.
And a country’s ability to attract mid- to highly skilled immigrants correlates strongly with increases economic growth and social good.
It’s not hard to see how. Confirmed by studies by the Brookings Institution, people who are immigrating to the U.S. today — and broadly throughout the world — are increasingly college educated, with more technologically advanced skills, and more motivated to succeed than ever before.
In today’s 21st century globalized world, immigration is clearly not about our grandfather’s “aliens” who arrived in great numbers to this country, mostly poor, uneducated, and hungry.
This immigrant success story is true not just here in the U.S., but also in Australia, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, and Iceland — countries where immigration accounts for an even higher percentage of total population. (The U.S. accepts over 1 million immigrants per year, less than one half of one percent of total population.)
Consider Germany’s experience.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and later the collapse of the Soviet Union, the former West Germany absorbed nearly 2 million immigrants from the east. Today, many analysts point to how Germany successfully assimilated these immigrants as a major contributing factor to it’s latest rise as the top economy in Europe.
Here in the U.S., it’s no surprise to find that states with the fastest rates of economic growth and rising median household income are among the top distinations for immigrants, including California, New York, and Texas.
My personal experience with the immigrants I have met lately seems to illustrate how helping others is about helping ourselves.
I recently engaged with a few remarkable global immigrant heroes at Upwardly Global in Berkeley where I volunteered as a mock job interviewer.
I met engineers and environmental scientists, computer programmers and project managers. What impresses me most is how stunningly experienced, qualified and highly skilled they all are at what they do.
As mentioned at the top, I was present at a recent U.S. Immigration and Naturalization ceremony in Oakland, California, where I saw 1,000 immigrants from 97 countries take their oath of alligence and become U.S. Citizens for the first itme.
Expressed by the U.S. State Department host who presided over the oath ceremony: “Today, you come from 97 countries, but from now on you represent ONE country.”
Recently, at the World Affairs Council, I attended an inspirational talk by Eric Liu, founder of Citizen University, former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, and renouned author of several books, including The True Patriot, The Gardens of Democracy, and his latest, A Chinaman’s Chance.
Liu sums up the uniqueness of the global immigrant story here in the U.S. as follows:
“The United States of America is the only country in the world that creates Chinese Americans, or Mexican Americans, or African Americans, or Asian Americans. It’s not possible to go to China to become an American Chinese.”