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Immigration Debate: What the Economy Stands to Lose

The stakes are a lot higher than you think, says VC Jeff Bussgang. He explains why he's getting behind the Senate's Gang of Eight bill.
Gang of Eight: Senators Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona; Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida; Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois; Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York; John McCain, a Republican from Arizona; Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey; Lindsay Graham, a Republican from South Carolina; and Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Colorado (pictured left to right), crafted comprehensive legislation to overhaul the immigration system.
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Editor's note: This is post is part of a series on immigration policy from Engine, a Silicon Valley-based advocacy organization for tech start-ups.   

I recently had the privilege of testifying on the benefits of immigration reform in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. I plan to continue to speak out until we get the change we need. Bluntly put, our country’s current immigration policy is broken.  If we fail to address the issue, it threatens our future as the leading nation for innovation.

As a data-driven investor, I have an appreciation for the compelling data that surrounds the immigration issue. Immigrant entrepreneurs have contributed tremendously to our economy. Here’s an interesting fact: 76 percent of patents issued to our top 10 patent-generating universities had an immigrant inventor. And another: In many of the high tech industries I operate and invest in, the unemployment rate is effectively below zero due to a lack of qualified technology workers, choking off further growth and opportunity. These facts need to be front and center in this battle to change the system and allow us to fully realize our economic potential. 

For too long I’ve watched our dysfunctional immigration system turn away the best and brightest from creating jobs and wealth in America. One of my most brilliant students grew up in Vietnam and came to America to attend Stanford University on a full, merit-based scholarship, before working in management consulting and then enrolling in Harvard’s MBA program. For the last two years, she has been working on starting an online education company that will dramatically decrease cost and increase to a quality high school education--an incredibly important issue to all American families. Quite a resume.

She wants to start the company here in the U.S., because she knows this is the best place in the world to finance and build a business like hers. But, due to her immigration status, once she graduates she either has to leave the country or find a job with someone who will sponsor her H-1B visa--all within 60 days. This year, the H-1B cap was “sold out” within a week. The options are slim: Either she will abandon her start-up dream, or she will pursue it in another country that will welcome her instead.

The provisions in the Senate Gang of Eight bill would change the opportunity set for my student. I hope the bill gets the support it needs to change the outcomes for future entrepreneurs. I’m particularly pleased with the proposed INVEST visa program, which grants a path to citizenship for successful entrepreneurs. This program would allow America to be a magnet for entrepreneurs who wish to start their own companies here, not a deterrent.

I believe that America can still be the place where the world’s most creative entrepreneurs come to build globally significant companies. I’ve already written to my Senator, and will be calling Congress on June 18 as part of Engine Advocacy's Keep Us Here campaign. I urge you to do the same.

IMAGE: JASON REED/Reuters/Newscom
Last updated: Jun 17, 2013

JEFF BUSSGANG | Columnist | General Partner, Flybridge Capital Partners

Jeff is a general partner at Flybridge Capital Partners, which focuses on consumer, Internet commerce, marketing services, software, and mobile start-ups. He's the author of Mastering the VC Game, and the blog Seeing Both Sides.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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