President Obama is expected to unveil a proposal for tackling immigration reform in a speech this afternoon--a blueprint that could have big implications for the start-up world.
The subject draws passionate opinions from all corners of the entrepreneurial map, including serial entrepreneurs, prominent venture capitalists, and even, most recently, Steve Jobs’ widow. Overwhelmingly, they say start-ups need immigrants. And while the U.S. is still a top choice for immigrant entrepreneurs, America's strict immigration policies are hindering innovation.
It's abundantly clear that entrepreneurs and those who support them have an unusually high stake in immigration reform. Allowing skilled immigrant entrepreneurs to more easily enter America, where they can create good jobs and pay taxes, is the closest thing to an economic free lunch that we are likely to get. In the words of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, we are committing 'economic suicide' by making it hard for skilled immigrants to stay in the U.S. and contribute to our economy.
For the pair, a few simple policy tweaks could help the U.S. retain highly skilled workers. Among their suggestions: allow H-1B holders to change jobs without losing their visa status and being forced to leave.
Brad Feld, managing director at the Foundry Group, recently wrote about immigration, particularly about the passage of Canada’s Startup Visa Program. His view: Canada's entrepreneur-friendly program is a reminder of everything the U.S. is doing wrong, or not doing at all. A start-up visa movement has been swirling around the U.S. for years, but has yet to gain traction. “I continue to be really discouraged by the US government activity around the Startup Visa movement,” wrote Feld in a recent blog post. “Mostly I am just embarrassed and ashamed of our U.S. policies around this.”
Michael Moritz of Sequoia Capital attributed the current deadlock to xenophobia in Tumblr post this morning, and credited Silicon Valley with being "blind to any attribute other than ability." He went on:
"The number of startups would be even higher if we weren’t ejecting foreign-born students and if we welcomed their contemporaries who have been educated overseas. Today, it is impossible to satisfy Silicon Valley’s appetite for engineers and scientists with people born in America."
And Steve Jobs’ widow, Laurene Powell Jobs, made headlines last week when she launched an online petition for implementation of the Dream Act. Her petition doesn’t deal with entrepreneurs directly, but would give ambitious self-starters a foot in the door.
“We think Congress’s inaction is devastating for these students and tragic for the country,” Powell Jobs, whose father was a Syrian immigrant, told the Wall Street Journal.