Of Immigration, Innovation and Inspiration

“I need a white face to interview who is looking for money for his company from India and has come especially for that” said the BBC interviewer to me last week as I hosted in Birmingham a UK Government India Day with Jaguar Land Rover and other Indian companies in the UK.

I write on my way to Northern Ireland for a post G8 speech on Indian innovation in the UK. This country needs immigrants – the right sort – the sort who came from East Africa in the 70s.

“Between 1980 and 2005, virtually all net new jobs created in the US were created by firms that were 5 years old or less. That is about 40 million jobs. Established firms created no new net jobs during that period”. This is a quote from an outstanding piece in the New York Times this week by Friedman, who wrote the book The World is Flat which talks much of India and outsourcing.

The point: If you want to create jobs then bank bailouts ain’t the way to go. You need new companies. And you need them now. You need them so they can pay taxes, to pay down our national debt, to pay pension contributions.

But jobs come from new companies. From start-ups. And where are these start-ups going to come from? They come from entrepreneurs. And you can either grow entrepreneurs through our schooling (we haven’t got the time), or you import them – immigrants.

And you don’t attract risk-taking entrepreneurial job-creating entrepreneurs by taxing them to death and bashing immigrants. ‘Britain’s borders are open – open to talented proven risk-taking entrepreneurs’ should be the political message. Because long-after May 6th when the domestic audience is no longer listening, the rest of the world will remember the words which will be spoken by our political masters this month. And if those words are purely for winning the election by immigrant bashing, then they will inherit the short-term prize and lose the long-term reward.

Why do immigrants so often succeed? The readers of this paper for instance? Because you do not travel 7000 miles only to fail. Immigration self-selects risk-takers. Risk-taking entrepreneurs create new companies which create jobs.

But you know what else creates jobs with immigration? Foreign students studying at our Universities. So what’s the last thing you want to do? Kill University funding. It’s almost as if periodically Britain decides to write a suicide note. Things get a little good and it’s time for a death-wish. The late 70s were one period, as were the early 90s.

Friedman notes the ‘job-creators’ visa – create a certain number of jobs, and you get leave to remain in the country. I visit India every two months to look for high growth intellectual property rich Indian companies to establish in the UK to go global from here. It’s a tough job because India has growth approaching 10%. Why would they want to go global from here? Because we still in the UK have a competitive advantage; research facilities, access to the EU, skilled employees, access to capital. Each of those advantages is vanishing fast.

Get the entrepreneurial immigrants in here quick; keep up University funding, slash the cost of new jobs in new companies.

Raise taxes if you want. But for god’s sake don’t raise it on new companies. Make it cheap to employ people. If they earn a wage, they will spend a wage. Combat illegal immigration, but flood the country with entrepreneurs, open the floodgates, let them pour in and let prosperity reign. Remember: ‘Britain’s borders are open – open to talented proven risk-taking entrepreneurs who will create companies and jobs.’ What the BBC guy should have said is, ‘I want to interview brown faces who have come here as entrepreneurs.’

Alpesh Patel

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