Melting pots have always been gloriously productive. From Ancient Greece, through the Renaissance and Industrial Revolution, right up to today's City of London, the societies that enjoyed the greatest prosperity have been those that encouraged cultural and intellectual ferment. Countries that open their doors invite ideas and innovation; those that close them become sclerotic and inward-looking. If you want evidence, just look at the contrasting histories of western Europe and Asia in the last millennium.
In this context, it baffles me that the immigration debate in Britain always focuses on how much it costs to bring in immigrants, rather than how much they offer back. Right now in the US, for example, 60% of the top technology businesses have migrant founders. Can we in Britain really afford to risk turning away the next Sergey Brin?
I've got to put my cards on the table. I'm an American migrant entrepreneur. My company, DueDil, which employs about 40 people directly and engages (whether as customers, suppliers or partners) with thousands more, is my third entrepreneurial venture in the UK. We employ people from Egypt, Macedonia, Brazil, Australia, Israel, Poland, Slovenia, Pakistan - and even England!
The silence around the contribution of immigrants is mainly down to a lack of hard evidence. So yesterday we launched a report called Migrant Entrepreneurs: Building our Businesses, Creating our Jobs, with the Centre for Entrepreneurs, to examine for the first time Britain's real immigrant economics. Here are just some of the numbers we discovered:
- Britain is a hub for young, productive, entrepreneurial migrants from 155 countries across the world. There are 456,073 migrant entrepreneurs in the UK, who have founded or co-founded 465,527 companies. These migrant entrepreneurs are, on average, eight years younger than the typical UK-born entrepreneur - 44 vs 52.
- Migrant entrepreneurs are behind one in seven of all UK companies. Stop and think about that. And their entrepreneurial activity is near double that of UK-born individuals.
- In the SME (small and medium-sized companies) sector alone, migrant entrepreneurs have created more than one million jobs.
Still believe migrants are a drain on society? I reckon this data moves the immigration debate into a whole new realm.
Sure, it leaves tough questions for politicians, but this research is also helpful because it gives them a start point. The writer and economist John Kay put it in the right order when he said: "Pluralism is the key to the success of a market economy. But pluralism must also be disciplined." I think we need to look first at immigrants' entrepreneurial potential and professional skillsets, then figure out the policy structures after that.
In my experience, this country is really welcoming to foreign entrepreneurs. I got my visa within two days, which would have been unthinkable in America! With the English language, the GMT timezone and the government's far-sighted regime, the UK is one of the greatest places in the world for migrant entrepreneurs to set up a business, and I really hope it stays that way. We need every competitive edge we can find.
The report, Migrant Entrepreneurs: Building our Businesses, Creating our Jobs was produced by DueDil and the campaigning group Centre for Entrepreneurs. You can read the full report, and see the supporting data, on the DueDil blog or at creatingourjobs.org; and you can tweet using the hashtag #migrEnts