Why Our Company Needs Immigrants
There’s more and more talk about restricting legal immigration, but this could be a disaster for America. No one country has a monopoly on brains. If we are to remain competitive, we must be free to choose among the best people available, wherever they might come from.
Our industry, microelectronics, is astonishingly competitive. Product performance doubles about every 18 months, while product prices decline as much as 30 percent annually. If the auto industry developed like microelectronics, you’d soon see a Mercedes that could go 50,000 miles per hour and cost 25 cents!
Our industry is competitive because customers demand more computing power for less money. As they discover more ways to increase productivity and expand their capabilities with microelectronics technology, they shop around for the best performance. A company either supplies it or sees customers go to others who can better serve their needs.
Let me give you an idea of the astonishing complexity such technology involves. Our first transistor, the Intel 4004, which became available in 1971, had 2,300 transistors. That was mind-boggling when you consider that simple transistor radios were a recent development. Today, our Pentium Pro chip has five million transistors—the equivalent of five million vacuum tubes. Creating it was like designing New York City from scratch so that millions of people get to work within minutes, and no one bumps into anyone else. And such a product in terms of computing power—millions of instructions per second (MIPs)—must be delivered for less money. Back in 1979, the cost of a MIP of computing power was $1,080, but now it’s just $5.
Our company is on the leading edge of computer technology thanks in no small measure to immigrant talent. Our most famous immigrant is Andrew S. Grove who arrived at the Brooklyn Naval Yard in 1957 after escaping from Communist Hungary. He didn’t seem very promising, with just the clothes on his back and about $20. Relatives took him in. He enrolled as a second-year engineering student at City College of New York. Six years later, he earned a Ph.D. in chemical engineering at the University of California and got a job with Fairchild Semiconductor. Eleven years after arriving as a poor immigrant, Dr. Grove joined Dr. Robert Noyce of Iowa and Dr. Gordon Moore of California to start Intel. Today Dr. Grove is Intel’s President and Chief Executive Officer.
Immigrants worked hand-in-hand with American-born people to achieve one technological breakthrough after another at Intel. Jean Hourni, from Switzerland, developed the planar process. This put transistors on a flat surface, the first step toward miniaturization. Dov Frohman, from Israel, invented the electronic programmable read-only memory. Frederico Faggin, from Italy, was co-inventor of silicon gate technology and the first microprocessor. Mayotoshi Shima, from Japan, designed the 8086 microprocessor which launched our super-fast Pentium technology. Recently, Ryan Manepally of India co-developed our new Pro Share product which handles inexpensive teleconferencing over your personal computer.
Intel needs immigrants despite spending a lot of money on education and training, most of which goes to native-born people. The Intel Foundation contributes $23 million annually for scholarships, grants, teacher training, curriculum development, and programs from kindergarten through university which focus on math, science, and engineering. Moreover, Intel spends $4.5 million annually on tuition reimbursement and $120 million annually on internal training for employees.
Today, over half of Intel’s sales occur outside the United States. We’re a major manufacturer with 75 percent of our plants in the United States—only Boeing exports a higher percentage of world-wide production from our shores. Intel’s microprocessor architecture is used by 80 percent of the world’s computers.
Intel performs 90 percent of its research and development in America. But if immigration were curtailed, we would either have to transfer more of our operations overseas or see talented people and business go to overseas competitors. In this competitive industry, a six-month delay introducing a new product can easily cost us $1 billion.
A Vital Part of the Technological Labor Force
Immigrants are vital for many other companies besides Intel. Immigrants started or currently lead Apple, AST, Atmel, Borland, Compaq, Computer Associates, LSI Logic, Sun Microsystems, 3Com, Wyse Technology, and Xicor, among others. The designer of the “hot” Internet software called Java is Canadian James Gosling. About one-third of Silicon Valley engineers are foreign-born. About one-third of the engineers at IBM’s Yorktown Heights Lab and at AT&T’s Bell Labs are foreign-born. Microsoft depends on foreign-born individuals to translate its software into 30 languages for sale in over 100 countries.
Immigrants play a key role at high technology centers throughout America—including the “Silicon Desert” in Arizona, the “Rio Grande High-Tech Corridor” in New Mexico, the “Silicon Prairie” in Texas, the “Silicon Forest” in Oregon, and Route 128 in Massachusetts.
Today’s immigrants might not come here with much money, they might look different and speak strange languages, but their entrepreneurial spirit and desire to achieve is 100 percent American. Foreign-born college undergraduates are twice as likely to go on to earn a Ph.D. as native-born undergraduates. Over 40 percent of engineering and physics graduate students at American universities are foreign-born. About a third of America’s Nobel Prize winners have been, too.
None of this is new. American industry has long thrived on immigrant talent. Frenchman E.I. DuPont helped develop the American chemical industry. Scotsman Andrew Carnegie introduced new technologies to dramatically cut the cost of making steel. The Italian A.P. Giannini started Bank of America. Jewish immigrants created great Hollywood studios like Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. German immigrants introduced all kinds of technology as they built companies like Bausch and Lomb, Weyerhaeuser, Chrysler, Steinway, Wurlitzer, Hershey, Heinz, and Anheuser-Busch. Unskilled Chinese and Japanese immigrants performed the difficult, dangerous work of building American railroads. Hispanic immigrants have started tens of thousands of small business enterprises. Immigrants helped develop American nuclear and missile technology. Immigrants helped land an American on the moon.
Far from being a sign of weakness, as some opponents of immigration claim, the presence of so many immigrants affirms America’s enduring strength. For thousands of years, people have migrated to places where they could be free. A locale doesn’t need to have natural resources, money, or a large population to prosper; as long as it offers freedom, it will attract everything. Witness the freedom which turned the ocean bottom into Holland, mudflats into Venice, and barren islands into booming Singapore and Hong Kong.
Our company is better, our industry is more competitive, and our nation is more prosperous because of immigrants. America remains a special place where all kinds of people are free to prosper peacefully together.
This article was originally published by the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) in The Freeman, June 1996.
Michael C. Maibach is a vice president of Intel Corporation. The Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), one of the oldest free-market organizations in the United States, was founded in 1946 by Leonard E. Read to study and advance the freedom philosophy. FEE's mission is to offer the most consistent case for the "first principles" of freedom: the sanctity of private property, individual liberty, the rule of law, the free market, and the moral superiority of individual choice and responsibility over coercion.
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