U.S. Immigration Policy Is Killing Innovation
BY Brad Feld
Brad Feld, VC and co-founder of TechStars, sounds off on why immigration policy must change--before the start-up community starts to suffer.
Editor's note: This is the first post in a series on immigration policy from Engine, a Silicon Valley based advocacy organization for tech start-ups.
We’re playing a global game for talent and, as Washington, D.C. continues at its own pace on immigration policy, the rest of the world is moving faster and faster around us. When I think about the United States in comparison to other countries, it’s clear that we need to seriously rethink our positioning and catch up.
Canada, for example, unveiled a new Start-up Visa this year touting short processing times, a pathway to citizenship, and lower taxes. The UK is also well on its way to attracting young, bright talent: as of April this year, anyone approved for the TechStars London accelerator is automatically approved for an UK Entrepreneur Visa. With our dysfunctional immigration system and stalling reform efforts, it’s clear why some entrepreneurs are actively choosing to leave the United States for other countries.
In true startup fashion, these newer startup communities are growing at a rapid pace and have already produced some exceptional companies. Prezi, founded in Hungary, is changing the way many of us give presentations and London-based Wonga, a real-time risk-profiling startup, is bringing small loans to the 21st century. Since we no longer have a monopoly on innovation, we cannot afford to turn away the entrepreneurs knocking on our door. In fact, our economy depends on us throwing the door to the United States wide open to any entrepreneur who wants to start a company here.
The current status quo around the United States immigration policy is bad for innovation and bad for our economy. In this context, we cannot afford to turn our backs on the efforts of some Senators on reform. One of the most exciting prospects in the Senate bill is the INVEST visa for foreign entrepreneurs that will create a new class of non-immigrant visas for founders who already have American investment in their business. In addition, this visa rewards successful entrepreneurs with a pathway to citizenship. This is real innovation--not just iteration--and it’s essential for startups, broader startup communities, and our country as a whole.
I know some people in Washington get it, but political morass is already seeping into the mechanism for change. House leadership has vowed to create its own immigration bill, in effect rejecting any Senate bill even if it passes with a supermajority. Representative Goodlatte has already introduced four new immigration bills, favoring a piecemeal approach rather than a comprehensive solution. What they are failing to see is that most Americans support a comprehensive immigration bill, and they’re ready for change now.
In keeping with the American public, I’m supporting Engine Advocacy’s Keep Us Here campaign. Startups in Boulder cannot wait for this immigration fix. Nor can the startup communities in Silicon Valley, New York, Boston, Seattle, Austin, Portland, Kansas City, or anywhere else in the United States. Let’s give Washington the nudge they need to be safe in the knowledge that this is what America wants, as well as what we need.
BRAD FELD: Brad has been an early stage investor and entrepreneur since 1987. Prior to co-founding Foundry Group, he co-founded Mobius Venture Capital and, prior to that, Intensity Ventures. Brad is also a co-founder of Techstars. He speaks and writes extensively about venture capital and entrepreneurship. He holds B.S. and M.Sc. degrees from MIT. @bfeld