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Why US businesses should value International Migrants Day

19 Dec

By Hikmet Ersek and David Lubell, The Hill (Op-Ed)

Monday, as we observe the United Nation’s 18th annual International Migrants Day, we’re reminded that the contributions of immigrants are key ingredients to the success and vibrancy of the countries and communities they join. It is a day to look past politics and division, and celebrate what unites us: freedom, opportunity and hope for a future in which we not only survive, but thrive.

Migrants are very much a part of this vision, and they are a global and local reality. According to the UN, an estimated quarter-billion migrants are living in communities worldwide, including more than 40 million in the United States.

Yet in the U.S. and across the globe, many long-time residents remain ambivalent about the demographic changes happening in their communities, and world events have contributed to heightened fears of the “other.” However, alongside generalized concerns, negative rhetoric and even discrimination, it is heartening to know that we also see communities welcoming newcomers through simple gestures, statements of alliance and protection, and acts of basic humanity and connection.

We believe that now more than ever, building communities where all residents feel welcome is fundamental to developing more prosperous communities globally. And we believe that business leaders have a powerful role to play.

After all, they recognize the energy and entrepreneurial verve that migrants often bring to their new communities. According to a recent study by the Center for American Entrepreneurship, more than 200 of the Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants. These businesses have created more than 12 million jobs.

While companies might view immigrants as potential employees or customers, the business community generally has not often played a direct role in supporting immigrant integration. We believe that in today’s world, business leaders can and should actively strengthen connections between receiving communities and newcomers — not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because the prosperity and social cohesion of our global communities demand it.

Business has a role to play at the grassroots level, by helping their employees to engage more deeply in their communities. One of the most effective ways to advance welcoming communities is to create meaningful contacts between newcomers and long-time residents. Everyday activities such as working together around issues of mutual concern like school improvement, or participating in a shared activity like community gardening, can help community members of all backgrounds recognize how much they have in common with each other. Business leaders and company employees can partner in these efforts.

Such efforts help people get to know each other, ultimately reducing fear and distrust, and blurring the boundaries between “us” and “them.” Long-term, such welcoming efforts can help to revitalize economies. As reported by the New American Economy and the Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition, Rust Belt cities such as Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Detroit have embraced welcoming policies that have contributed to a rebound in manufacturing, growth in the healthcare sector, and the creation of nearly 250,000 working-class jobs, which benefit immigrants and long-time residents alike.

The U.S. is not alone in beginning to recognize the value of welcoming. Across the Atlantic, in Stuttgart, Germany, more than 40 percent of the city’s 600,000 residents have a migrant background. To create links between migrant and long-term residents, Stuttgart’s City Council in 2001 adopted the groundbreaking Pact for Integration, which supports several innovative projects that help create a more welcoming environment. Today, Stuttgart is an economic powerhouse, with a high density of industrial companies and one of Germany’s lowest unemployment rates.

Such economic and social success stories in the U.S. and abroad can help inspire business leaders who believe that the American dream — the promise of economic opportunity and freedom rooted in fairness and equality — can unite us even in a time of division. Indeed, upholding these values has attracted immigrants and supported economic growth for generations. Business leaders share the responsibility to help their communities stay true to our values of welcoming people of all origins, backgrounds and faiths.

Hikmet Ersek is the president and CEO of Western Union, which last year enabled individuals and businesses to transfer more than $150 billion in more than 200 countries and territories. In many countries, remittances contribute to more than double of all sources of foreign aid combined.

David Lubell is the founder and executive director of Welcoming America. helping individuals across the U.S. transform their communities into models of inclusion. More than 48 million Americans live in one of 188 “welcoming communities” that have joined this effort.