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New immigration rules, DeVos have consequences for business

(This essay was published by Crain's Detroit Business on 2/26/2017)

Crain's Detroit Business Publisher/Editor Ron Fournier addressed President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration in his Feb. 2 column, asking "How can this be good for your business, your city, your country?" Here are some concerns addressing the need to develop and sustain the technologically skilled workforce required today.

Detroit's business environment has been harmed by the unintended consequences of two recent well-intentioned but poorly considered federal actions: the new immigration restrictions, along with an inexperienced education secretary interested more in a single, religion-driven issue than the broad range of educational concerns needed to develop a highly skilled workforce.

As a member of Detroit's analytics community, I have written before how high-tech education makes a crucial difference in today's economy, including the commercial benefits immigrants with advanced degrees bring to our shores.

Our new education secretary, Betsy DeVos, seeks to reduce enrollment in public schools in favor of private, religious-based schools sometimes marked by selective support for modern science. Without proper input from business leaders, this can focus technological education toward fewer people.

The increasing difficulty in finding enough employees with the technological skills required for today's economy hurts business growth, limits new product development and increases costs. Both the travel bans and insufficient support for public schools in providing a highly skilled workforce have the unintended effect of hurting our global competiveness by reducing the number of employees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

While vetting of immigrants is certainly needed, vetting of new government rules is also necessary to prevent sudden, harmful shifts in policy. Inadequately considered changes in government rules can leave business plans in disarray. Employers are left uncertain if their known and trusted employees can — or will want to — remain in this country.

Faced with a hostile immigration environment and weakening public schools for their children, what is to prevent people with newly minted master's degrees from establishing their careers in more-welcoming places?

National leaders in Germany, Canada and other countries have reached out to those worried by the travel ban with a voice clearly heard in engineering centers and graduate schools across America. Our global competitiveness has been injured by a lack of due consideration of the business impact of new policies.

American business interests are best served by thorough vetting of immigrants based on realistic risk criteria rather than only national origin or religion and a strong public education system to produce an abundance of high-tech workers.

Chamber of Commerce representatives and other business leaders need to be a part of the conversation at national, state and local levels to promote the technology needed for business growth. Working together with business leaders, federal policy can do more to foster, rather than hinder, creation of the products and jobs of the future.

David J Corliss, PhD is a statistical astrophysicist working in emerging analytic technology in the automotive industry. He is the founder and Director of Peace-Work.

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