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The San Jose Mercury News: Immigration: The View from Silicon Valley | Cypress Semiconductor

The San Jose Mercury News: Immigration: The View from Silicon Valley

Last Updated: 
May 24, 2012

The San Jose Mercury News: Immigration: The View from Silicon Valley

T.J. Rodgers

Last week, Cypress Semiconductor Corp. hosted a news conference by Michigan Sen. Spencer Abraham, the newly appointed chairman of the Senate Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee and a champion of legal immigration as a positive force for all Americans. Outside, a group of demonstrators carried pickets that read, "Stop Bashing Real Americans," and "U.S. Jobs for U.S. Workers."

The confrontation illustrates the intensity of the immigration debate in the United States. Over the last decade, America's Fortune 500 companies have been shrinking. Regardless of the fact that most employees affected by this process move seamlessly to smaller, more-entrepreneurial companies, such as those in Silicon Valley, corporate "downsizing" is publicized relentlessly, making many Americans fear for their jobs and unfairly blame immigrants for those fears.

The question is: Which camp supports its position with facts and logic rather than raw emotion -- the supporters or the opponents of legal immigration?

Far from draining the American economy, immigrants create economic value and jobs, benefiting both themselves and native-born Americans. Consider the following conventional wisdom and then the data that refutes it.

"Immigrants work for less money, reducing the wages of other workers." San Jose's immigrant population is among the nation's highest. Yet competition for workers here is so intense that the average per capita wage is $42,400 -- No. 1 in the United States, ahead of No. 2 New York City, another highly concentrated immigrant center. According to a study by the Cato Institute's Stephen Moore, "Immigration and America's Cities: A Sign of Economic Health," the per-capita money income in cities with a high concentration of immigrants outstrips that of low-immigrant cities, $14,748 to $12,851.

"Immigrants take jobs from native-born Americans." Like other Silicon Valley companies, we are so in need of skilled workers that we have started remote design centers around the world anywhere we can find good engineers. We have already set up 10, including one in the United Kingdom and one in India; we need all the chip designers we can get. According to the Manhattan Institute's Index of Leading Immigration Indicators, the unemployment rate in states with the highest immigrant presence, including California, is 5.1% -- significantly lower than the 6.6% rate in low-immigration states. Of course, we enjoy a low unemployment rate in immigrant-rich San Jose. Similarly, the 10 states with the lowest unemployment rate have a high immigrant concentration -- 3.84% of the total population -- compared with the 1.56% immigrant concentration in high-unemployment states.

"Every immigrant who takes a job, takes that job away from a U.S. native." Our $600-million company is an example of the opposite. Immigrants create jobs at Cypress, which is run by me and 10 vice presidents. Four of these vice presidents are immigrants. John Torode, vice president of our Seattle Computer Clock Division, came to America after World War II as a dependent immigrant with his father, a British sailor. Lothar Maier, our vice president of wafer manufacturing, came to America from Germany as a child. Manny Hernandez, our chief financial officer, was relocated to the United States by his former employer, National Semiconductor. Tony Alvarez, our vice president of research and development, fled Castro-controlled Cuba with his parents in 1961. These four vice presidents did not take jobs from native-born Americans. They helped to build a company that employs 2,000 people mostly native-born. Furthermore, upon reviewing our current 70 job openings, I concluded that our four immigrant vice presidents could also fill 34 of these positions, if I could clone them. Immigrant entrepreneur success is a common story here in Silicon Valley. Did Andy Grove -- the Hungarian refugee, Intel founder, and CEO of the world's largest semiconductor company -- take a job from an American manager, or did he help to create a $25-billion company with 50,000 high-quality jobs that makes life better for all Americans?

"Even if some immigrants provide economic value and much-needed expertise, they bring costly dependents along with them." Only one of Cypress's four immigrant vice presidents relocated here specifically to take a job; the other three job creators were dependents. If we believe that letting the best and the brightest into America will make all of us better off, then we should not tell those who relocate here, "You can come to America, but you must leave your family behind."

While these anti-immigrant arguments fail to hold water, even more absurd are some of the laws proposed by self-styled, "populist" politicians, like Pat Buchanan or Texas Congressman Lamar Smith. Consider the proposal to require companies to run identity verification tests on employees prior to hiring. The system would be enforced by another massive government bureaucracy with the potential for error and waste on a massive scale. Imagine the economic gridlock that would result from having to phone Washington for permission to make a job offer. And even if there were only a 1% error rate in the national employment data base, 650,000 jobs a year would be denied by mistake, a government-caused human tragedy.

Another absurd proposal is that the United States send immigrants home for three years after they complete their college education. In other words, we are advised to burn millions of dollars educating immigrants (currently one-half of all new U.S. Ph.D. engineers are immigrants) and then send them back to their native countries, where they can make our foreign competitors stronger.

By contrast, consider one example of the value that immigrants provide. About 200 of our 2,000 global employees are involved in research and development, helping to create new products. That means each R&D job creates nine additional jobs -- to make, sell, and support what R&D turns out. A disproportionate number of our R&D jobs -- about 40% -- are staffed by immigrants. If we had been prevented from hiring our 80 immigrant researchers, we would have failed to create 720 other jobs -- about 500 of which are held by native-born Americans.

Silicon Valley business leaders almost universally recognize the value of legal immigration, but many others are asking: "What should we do about immigration?" We should follow Sen. Abraham's proposal, which can be summed up as: "Bravely do nothing about current immigration levels."

Consider that today, our legal immigrant population is only 7.5% -- less than half of what it was between the 1860s and the 1920s -- and that immigrants add less than 0.4% to our population yearly. Our immigrant population is low -- roughly half that of Canada, Australia, Switzerland, or New Zealand. Add to these statistics the documented value that immigrants provide to all Americans, and our response to the immigration "problem" should be obvious.

Immigration is well-controlled. It makes native-born Americans better off. We should enjoy our diversity and work on real problems.

- Courtesy The San Jose Mercury News.