10 Tech Titans Leading the Charge on Immigration Reform
The Cause Uniting Silicon ValleyMark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of FacebookSteve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, and Laurene Powell JobsBill Gates, founder of MicrosoftFred Wilson, managing partner of Union Square VenturesJohn T. Chambers, Chairman and CEO of Cisco SystemsMarissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!Sergey Brin, co-founder of GoogleSteven Chen, co-founder of YouTubePaul Graham, co-founder of Y-CombinatorBrian Chesky, co-founder and CEO of Airbnb
Well before Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg launched FWD.us to organize Silicon Valley's efforts to push forth immigration reform, various industry leaders had been investing time and money campaigning on the issue.
Here are some of the leaders who are playing a role in the accelerating push for reform.
-- Jana Kasperkevic
In the first six months of 2013, Facebook executive officers, including Zuckerberg and his wife, donated more than $200,000 to the Facebook PAC, which in turn donated $110,000 to members of Congress pushing for immigration reform.
However, Zuckerberg doesn't just want visas for high-skill STEM workers. At a screening of Documented on Monday, he said that visas for high-skilled and low-skilled workers should not be viewed as two separate issues, since children of immigrants often become the next generation of entrepreneurs.
In 2010, Jobs told President Obama "that Silicon Valley is mystified by a policy that instead educates foreigner engineers at top U.S. universities, then sends them home immediately," reports The Wall Street Journal. But Jobs became frustrated with the president, who told Jobs that immigration reform would have to wait.
Jobs' widow, Laurene Powell Jobs, continues his campaign for immigration reform.
Earlier this year, she launched TheDreamIsNow.org, an online petition supporting the Dream Act, which would grant a path to citizenship to undocumented youth.
"Demand for specialized technical skills has long exceeded the supply of native-born workers with advanced degrees, and scientists and engineers from other countries fill this gap," Gates wrote in a 2007 op-ed for The Washington Post.
In an interview with CNNMoney, Gates said that high talent immigration has been held hostage by illegal immigration problem and that, in order for immigration reform to be effective, both types of immigration would need to be addressed.
Gates is one of the founders of FWD.us. Furthermore, Microsoft, which Gates founded in 1975, set a company quarterly spending record--coming in just under $3 million--on its Washington lobby efforts in the past few months as the Senate voted on the 'Gang of Eight' immigration reform bill.
In a recent interview with Reuters, Wilson said he has been advocating for STEM and start-up visas for at least five years, but that he'd been told by public officials that reform can't be done piecemeal.
"The reason is, the stake holders on both sides of the issue have so much investment in the comprehensive reform that even though they both agree that STEM visa or a start-up visa makes all the sense in the world, they won't do it because it would take the pressure off," he said.
However, Wilson thinks that with the shifting winds on the Capitol Hill--especially thanks to Latino voters--the U.S. might see comprehensive reform be accomplished by the end of this year.
As co-chair of TechNet, a bipartisan network of tech CEOs, Chambers has become a public spokesperson for high-skilled immigration reform, which the organization has lobbied for with both President Obama and the Congress.
Cisco lobby efforts have also not gone unnoticed, coming in at $900,000 during the last quarter.
"Now--as the House of Representatives takes up the issue--Cisco will continue to work with our legislative leaders to ensure that the reforms help attract the best, the brightest and the most ambitious minds from around the world to our shores," Chambers said after praising the Senate on their passage of the immigration reform bill earlier this summer.
Besides being a FWD.us supporter and recently appointed member of TechNet's executive council, Mayer has been invited to the White House to meet with President Obama as he attempted to garner support for the comprehensive immigration reform.
However, while other tech companies are seeing money pour into their PACs, Yahoo's Y!PAC has only raised a fraction of the funds in comparison, reported allthingsd. To encourage donations, in July Mayer held a reception at her home for Yahoo employees who contributed more than $2,400 to Y!PAC.
So far this year, Yahoo! has spend $1.43 million on its lobby efforts, reports OpenSecrets.
Having immigrated to the U.S. when he was six years old, Russian-born Brin is often held up as an example, especially by President Obama, who has highlighted Brin's success in various immigration reform speeches.
While Google advocates for other causes in Washington, like U.S. privacy controls and patent trolls, immigration has been one of its main lobby issues. The company spent a record $18.2 million on their lobby efforts in 2012. The spending did not stop after the election, with Google spending over $6.7 million on lobby efforts in 2013 so far, according to OpenSecrets.
Chen, who was born in Taiwan, is another notable immigrant entrepreneur. The YouTube co-founder recently signed on to join FWD.us as a financial backer.
"My story could only happen here [in the U.S.]--as both an immigrant and a proud member of the tech community, I'm proud to join FWD.us as a funder and supporter. I've seen firsthand the impact both of those communities can have on our economy and our country's ability to lead the world in innovation and am pleased to join the group as we work to pass comprehensive immigration reform," Chen wrote in May.
In 2009, Graham penned a blog post advocating for visas for start-up founders.
"Letting just 10,000 start-up founders into the country each year could have a visible effect on the economy. If we assume 4 people per start-up, which is probably an overestimate, that's 2500 new companies. Each year. They wouldn't all grow as big as Google, but out of 2500 some would come close," he wrote.
Most recently, the venture capitalist has been taking an active role in FWD.us. As one of the organization's major supporters and contributors, in June Graham hosted a panel on immigration reform featuring Congressman Mike Honda, Brian Chesky of Airbnb, Patrick Collison of Stripe, Drew Houston of Dropbox, and Pete Koomen of Optimizely.
When appearing at Y-Combinator's panel on immigration reform, Chesky, a major contributor of FWD.us, explained that after filing for an H1-B visa for an Airbnb employee, he knows first-hand how much time and effort these kind of things take.
"Recruiting is the most important thing our company does. Immigration is recruiting for the country,” he told the audience.