Thursday, December 07, 2006

Stella Says…The flip side of the immigration issue offers a valuable lesson

by Stella Ramsaroop

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 7 December 2006)

It is no secret that millions of people want to migrate to developed countries every day. There is always that notion that the grass is greener on the other side of the border, which is true in some regards and just pure silliness in other regards. There is no Utopia on Earth.

There are masses of people around the globe who desperately want to migrate to the United States, Canada, Britain and other such countries because they believe their quality of life will be better. I have seen people talk about America with a glazed look in their eyes as if it was a promised land with no wrongs or ills.

This notion is just ridiculous, but there is no telling these would-be immigrants such facts. They believe America can give them everything they could ever need. However, no one really stops to consider the flip side of this issue, that America – and other highly desired countries - benefit greatly from these immigrants.

Immigrant workers were the driving force behind America’s Industrial Age, a period that helped to position the U.S. as an economic leader. Even now, Asian immigrants make up a significant portion of the brains behind the technology boon.

When a country guards its borders and shuts out foreign investors (and investors from its Diaspora), it deprives itself of these types of economic benefits. Let me share some information that I recently read in the Washington Post on this topic.

I relocated to Texas earlier this year from the Washington DC area. We lived in the Arlington, Virginia area right across the river from the White House and down the road from the Pentagon. The racial make-up of this area is not what most would assume. It is not predominantly White.

It is in fact a very diversified area with a mixture of several races from all over the world. One of the fastest growing groups are immigrants from India. The November 22 Washington Post article, entitled “Out of India, En Masse and on the Way Up,” had this to say, “The once-small Indian immigrant population, which for decades expanded at a slow but steady rate, has ballooned over the past decade. Immigrants from India are settling here faster than any group except Salvadorans.”

The article continued, “Many Indians were among the recent wave of high-tech professionals who entered on temporary permits for skilled workers. When their spouses, children and siblings followed, their numbers soared, especially in Fairfax and Montgomery counties.”

On the one hand, immigrating to the U.S. was beneficial for these Indian nationals because they saw a promising opportunity and wanted to make the most of it. The article stated that the median income for Washington area Indian households is US$87,369, which is “higher than the median income for whites, other Asians, blacks and Hispanics, according to new Census Bureau figures…”

However, the flip side of this situation is that America benefits too. These soaring numbers are good news for the area because with each immigrant comes the potential for additional economic growth.

While some might feel a situation like this could take jobs away from the locals, a sentiment expressed by some Americans on the immigration issue and shared by Guyanese who spurn the concept of outside investors, this article goes a long way toward proving the exact opposite, more jobs are actually being created by these immigrants.

In fact, the article pointed out that there are more than 8,300 Indian-owned businesses in the region, which means there are literally thousands of locals being employed by these companies owned by immigrants. The advantages for both the Indian immigrants and for their adopted country are reciprocal. Each will help the other to grow economically.

Likewise, there are so many of these types of investors just biding time and waiting for Guyana to open her arms to welcome immigrant investors. However, there are numerous obstacles standing in the way, such as government bureaucracy (red tape galore), a frightening crime situation (which at times targets businesses) and the nation’s poor economic state (a sure deterrent to any investor). This list is by no means exhaustive.

Regardless of how much potential Guyana holds for investors, when the pros and cons are weighed, Guyana oft times misses her opportunity for economic growth and another country wins the plunder instead.

If the government continues to treat these issues that discourage economic investment with indifference, the nation will never realise its potential. Moreover, other countries will continue to benefit from those who leave Guyana to find better opportunities elsewhere.

I have no doubt whatsoever that the World Cup will afford the nation so many investment opportunities that the government will be overwhelmed – that is unless they actually take the time to prepare for such a rare occasion when investors from around the world will be focused on Guyana, but being proactive is obviously not a strength of this administration.

It is time for the government to permanently remove those investment deterrents and open their arms to potential outside investors and immigrant investors who can bring the type of economic growth that the Indian nationals are bringing to the Washington DC area.

This is not only about what Guyana can do for outside investors, but about what outside investors can do for Guyana. If the government chooses to do nothing to encourage outside investment and lets the World Cup slip by without capitalising on such a profound opportunity, every one loses in the end.

Email: StellaSays[at]

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