As America Falls Short on Global Migration, Businesses Must Step Up

This article was written by Remitly CEO and co-founder Matt Oppenheimer and originally published by the Diplomatic Courier.


On December 11 in Morocco, the United Nations formally adopted the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. This agreement provides a new framework for international cooperation on migration and recognizes the global contributions made by immigrants in advancing economic prosperity, innovation and entrepreneurship.

With more than 190 nations signing the compact, one of the few noticeably absent is the United States.

It is unfortunate that our country is stepping away from a leadership role on migration at a moment when such leadership is so urgently needed. It is even more surprising given the formative role migration has played in the history of our nation. Migration has been central to the American identity and embodies the essence of the American Dream on which our nation was built: the ideals of democracy, liberty and equality for all, and the promise of prosperity and success based on dedication and hard work.

Joseph Pulitzer, Levi Strauss, Albert Einstein – one need not look long to find examples of immigrants who have transformed our country and the world. Yet the impact is wider than commonly understood. An analysis from the Small Business Administration found that an immigrant is more likely to own a business than a nonimmigrant, and a 2017 U.S. News and World Report survey found that immigrants are catalysts for innovation, productivity and job creation. In fact, 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children. This economic impact is replicated in social, cultural and other aspects of our nation that have benefited from immigrants pursuing the American Dream – shaping America into a better, smarter, more diverse and stronger nation.

The United States needs to reclaim its leadership role on this issue by promoting a balanced, rational approach that supports immigrants, recognizes the underlying factors that cause mass migration, and seeks to channel the resulting immigration through legitimate channels. Immigration is most often a challenging, difficult path in which family and friends are left behind for a new and uncertain home and future. There are often serious economic, political, or other factors that cause people to leave their homes to seek a better life.

I founded Remitly in 2011 with the goal of changing the way money is sent around the world. Remittances, or international money transfers, make it possible for hardworking individuals to share the economic benefits of their labor with their families and friends back home. The cumulative impact of these individual acts of support can be transformative.

Objective 20 of the UN Migration Compact calls for participants to “promote faster, safer and cheaper transfer of remittances and foster financial inclusion of migrants.” At nearly $600 billion annually, remittances eclipse the total global foreign aid budget by a whopping threefold. Remittances provide stability and opportunity not just for individual recipients, but for entire countries. Indeed, in some counties remittance inflows are a substantial component of the country’s GDP. At a human level, these funds are often used for basic needs, including food, housing, education and medical care—and can even mean the difference between life and death. Remittances provide a lifeline not just for individual recipients, but for entire countries, creating the predicates for stability and opportunity that would not otherwise exist.

At Remitly, we are proud to serve immigrant communities around the world by helping make it more fair, transparent, and affordable for them to provide financial support to loved ones they have left behind. But beyond remittances, more must be done to improve the human condition and quality of life for those who leave their countries in pursuit of opportunity or to flee oppression and seek asylum.

Our world needs the business community’s creativity, leadership, and innovation to create solutions that address all the objectives of the UN Migration Compact—from access to basic services to skills and sustainable development. If we pause to reflect the deep motivations of our immigrant communities and the financial and cultural value they provide to our country, we can restore the path towards building a fair and just immigration system for the 21st century, one that includes all of those who seek only to achieve the American Dream.

Together, we can stand up and make a difference by helping those who boldly set out to pursue an opportunity or a dream, to build a better life for themselves, their family, and their community in the process.

To me, there’s nothing more American.