New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg called here Tuesday for the inclusion of immigration reform in the presidential debate as one of the most important subjects affecting economic growth in the United States.

In the first of two business forums in Chicago and Boston, Bloomberg defended the role of immigrants as essential.

"(T)here is no way to help the economy as quickly and as cost-free as opening the borders to create jobs and create business," the billionaire mayor told a meeting of the Economic Club of Chicago.

Bloomberg said that immigration reform is probably the most important subject pending in the United States, but neither Democratic incumbent Barack Obama nor Republican hopeful Mitt Romney has presented any plan to resolve it.

"This country cannot retain its global leadership without an immigration policy. The competition for immigrant talent with countries such as Singapore and Germany is too fierce, and the consequences of losing the battle are too great," the New York mayor said.

Joining Bloomberg at the breakfast in Chicago was former White House chief of staff William Daley, who said the shortcomings of current U.S. immigration law "hurt our economy, jeopardize job creation and arm our competitors with the world's best workers."

The mayor mentioned a study by the Partnership for a New American Economy, an organization led by Bloomberg and media magnate Rupert Murdoch, showing that immigrants created one out of every four new businesses last year.

In companies that work in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics, a foreign-born worker with a U.S. graduate degree creates an average of 2.62 jobs in the United States.

The report also said that historically more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies have been founded by an immigrant or the son or daughter of one.

Bloomberg said he chose Chicago and Boston for Tuesday's forums because they are the cities where Obama and Romney have their respective campaign headquarters, and he urged voters to demand that the candidates treat the immigration issue "with the seriousness it deserves."

He called it "unforgivable" that Democrats and Republicans refuse to support reform and suggested a four-point platform to begin the discussion.

First would be the granting of Green Cards to foreign students pursuing graduate degrees in science, math and technology.

Second, the percentage of Green Cards awarded on the basis of economic necessity should be increased from the current 7 percent.

Third would be the issuing of a visa specifically for businessmen.

And finally, the creation of a program for temporary workers in agriculture and seasonal industries.

Later the mayor will meet in Boston with News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch for a roundtable on the same subject.

Murdoch said before the meeting that he is in favor of getting beyond "politics and antiquated notions about immigration if we are serious about attracting and retaining the best talent in America."

"America is a great nation built on the hard work and ingenuity of immigrants, and our economic prosperity will depend upon our ability to unleash innovation and compete in the global marketplace," the Australian-born mogul said. EFE