arts_a_head2.jpgThe purpose of the [Immigration and Nationality Act is] to prevent an influx of aliens which the economy of individual localities [cannot] absorb. . . . Entrepreneurs do not compete as skilled laborers. The activities of each entrepreneur are generally unique to his own enterprise, often requiring a special balance of skill, courage, intuition and knowledge. . . . The same can be said of the activities of an artist.

Konishi V. Immigration and Naturalization Service, 661 F.2d 818 (9CA, 1981)(citations and quote marks omitted)

Immigration entrepreneurship is all the rage.  Comprehensive immigration reformers on the left and right agree that entrepreneurs beget innovation which begets jobs for Americans. Our history proves it. Research studies support the link.   Foreign entrepreneurs are encouraged to come through the “front door.” The President wants to welcome more of them. Members of Congress, hoping to avoid stemming the tide of innovation, are proposing a new flow of workers, especially in the STEM fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math with a three’s-the-charm bill, the Startup Act 3.0.  

In addition, a shoeleather-avoidant “Virtual March for Immigration Reform,” dubbed the “March for Innovation,” is set for a day this spring in order “to ensure that the broad immigration bills being considered in Congress include provisions to boost innovation and entrepreneurship, and . . . to seize the moment and get immigration reform passed.”

While we obsess on the need to invite more immigrant entrepreneurs, why is there no comparable fixation on the importance of welcoming entrepreneurship’s kissing cousin, creativity?

We acknowledge the creativity of knowledge workers, yet we fail to see the urgency of freely inviting members of the creative classes, our free-lance artists, writers, journalists, poets, painters, inspirational speakers, filmmakers, bloggers, videographers, performing artists, multi-media stylists and other creativity entrepreneurs.  As the artist, Konishi, convinced the court, the “activities of each entrepreneur are generally unique to his own enterprise, often requiring a special balance of skill, courage, intuition and knowledge. . . . The same can be said of the activities of an artist.”

Regrettably for America, however, our immigration laws are just as broken and dysfunctional when applied to creatives as to entrepreneurs. Foreign artists, even if they possess “extraordinary ability,” or manifest their artistry in “culturally unique” ways, must still be tied to an established U.S. agent or an employer.  They must also present a “consultation” from a peer group (usually a labor union that extorts a protectionist fee to confirm for the benefit of Homeland Security that its guild members’ would accept the foreign artist into the fold on payment of union dues). Similar restrictions apply to media free-lancers who must present journalistic credentials and a contract with a U.S. company even if they propose to enter the U.S. to offer or produce creatively presented information or education.

Surprisingly, although we recognize the compelling need to eliminate immigration barriers for noncitizen entrepreneurs, we ignore the job-creating qualities of foreign artists, even though both groups share Steve Jobs‘ remarkable insight into the creative process — one that likewise motivates many immigrants to embark for America:

If you want to live your life in a creative way, as an artist, you have to not look back too much. You have to be willing to take whatever you’ve done and whoever you were and throw them away. The more the outside world tries to reinforce an image of you, the harder it is to continue to be an artist, which is why a lot of times, artists have to say, “Bye. I have to go. I’m going crazy and I’m getting out of here.” 

Artists and creatives are everywhere, yet America mostly spurns them. Our legislators and the Obama Administration, just like the commissars of the old Soviet Union, must ultimately wake up to the reality that the Federales have no special talent for picking winners, and that planned economies, more often than not, tend to overlook the budding artist and the possibly math-phobic virtuoso.  

Let us also therefore revise our immigration laws to welcome these promising, early-stage artistic strangers even before they find an audience.  With fair and open-hearted screening processes we surely can craft a way to identify creatives offering the potential to spawn new art forms, new industries and new jobs.