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  • Writer's pictureMichael Padilla-Pagan Pay

Business & Immigration: the rise of a Global Tribe.

In the year 2018, Migration is a hot-button issue around the world, controversial and highly political. However, one of its most profound effects usually goes unmentioned! Proponents often emphasize the labor force contribution, the new businesses and the new consumer spending habits immigrants bring to their host countries, while critics focus on job displacement, remittances and the increased toll on government services and public funds. From a cultural perspective, one side proclaims that immigrants assimilate well to their new countries and enrich the culture, making it more diverse. On the other hand, some may argue that immigrants dilute rather than enhance the local culture, eradicating or overshadowing local practices, customs, and traditions.

Is there some truth hidden in those opposing sides, or is the truth lurking -as usual- somewhere in the grey area in between? History has repeatedly shown us that at different times, different immigrant populations fled to escape economic or political hardship in their own home countries, waves that usually subsided once the situation stabilized over the following decades. Italian, Greek and Irish immigrants, for example, flocked to the United States in the 19th century, fleeing poverty and upheaval. Today, Irish, and German Americans make up two of the United States' biggest ethnic groups, but few people immigrate to the United States from Germany or Ireland anymore. The same goes for the United Kingdom, Italy and Japan — all countries that once supplied the United States with large immigrant populations. 

History has a habit of repeating itself, and although developing countries may not have a highly educated workforce, too many specialized products for export, or ample investment capital; but they do have more to offer, some are on the way to becoming important financial centers and connecting to these burgeoning economies can prove beneficial to other states around the world. The countries with the largest immigrant populations from these rising powerhouses will have the best access to them. For as globalized as the modern world is, international business is always tricky. Beyond the challenges of physical distance and -often- whimsical legal systems, cultural barriers can also get in the way of fruitful business arrangements between countries.

Differences in language and customs are the obvious obstacles, but the ridge runs far deeper and wider. Much of the business world depends on a system of trust, and research indicates that trust tends to be higher among people of a common culture than it is between people from different backgrounds. We instinctively mistrust, that which we cannot relate to or understand. Miniscule elements of business culture and etiquette slowly erode the trust and connection between people, business associates, prospective clients, the world is coming together while the people are drifting further apart.

Many of the people who engage in global business come from the same English-speaking, Western-educated background, regardless of nationality. They do share the same business cradle, the same business culture, the same circle of events. And yet, this group by no means represents all the world's business leaders. Particularly in countries that have recently risen from poverty, the globalized culture of international commerce is still alien to many prominent business people, who connect most easily with others of their own native culture. Much like high school, people flock together in their own cliques, suspicious and resentful of “outsiders”, their capital follow suit in that practice. 

The presence of a familiar community in a foreign land can go a long way toward fostering international business ties. Consider the reasons foreign investors would gravitate to a city where many people who share their backgrounds live. For one thing, their cultural ties to the city may inspire an emotional desire to forge commercial links on the ground. For another, foreign investors could work with people familiar both with their culture and with the city's business scene. And if they needed to visit or relocate to the city, they would find a culturally familiar world waiting for them. 

Long game

When most people think about immigration, they tend to focus on the here and now: How many jobs are immigrants taking or providing? How much money are they costing the welfare state, or how much tax revenue do they generate? These kinds of questions often miss the long-term socio-economic effect of immigration, which has its roots in cultural connectivity. Though immigrants may appear to come from a state of poverty now, they will not stay that way forever.

As their economies develop, the newfound cultural affinities between origin and destination states take on a whole new meaning. Yesterday's immigrants become today's cultural middlemen, funneling investment and trade into their newly adopted countries. I am happy to have been one of them, as well as my entire company and I would encourage and welcome others to share in that wealth of culture, that is indeed a path towards wealth in business.

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