Immigration policies in the United States are a mess and Congress won't do anything about it. But the tech and startup community doesn'thave to wait for them.

Private enterprises should take the initiative to create public-facing policies about green card sponsorship. If a company cares about the long-term future of its employees, it will provide transparency on its stance so that foreign applicants can make employment decisions without fear of being judged negatively for asking about a company's green-card sponsorship policies (or lack thereof).

The facts are indisputable: immigrants coming to the United States create jobs and are a valuable source of entrepreneurship.

A recent NY Times study on unicorn startups, companies valued at greater than $1bn, investigated where founders were from. It found that over 50% of the founders were immigrants to the United States. The article reports, "Jyoti Bansal said he had to wait seven years for his employment-based green card before he could start AppDynamics Inc., a software company that helps companies monitor the performance of their networked applications and that has been valued at $1.9 billion. According to the study, Mr. Bansal couldn't leave his job to start a new company because it was unclear if he'd be able to keep his H-1B status." Of the 87 US unicorns, the 44 founded by immigrants have created 760 US jobs on average per company.

In a recent Orlando Sentinel op-ed by Former US Treasurer Rosario Marin, she tells the story of Mike Krieger, the Brazilian-born co-founder of Instagram who would have never been able to cofound a $35 billion company with 200 employees in Silicon Valley without a H-1B Visa. "It took less time to build Instagram than it did for me to get my work Visa," says Krieger.

Furthermore, according to a stat cited in that article, from 1996 to 2011, the rate at which immigrants started new businesses grew by more than 50 percent, and the same rate for native-born Americans declined by 10% to the lowest in 30 years. What's more, those immigrants' businesses employ 10% of Americans working for private companies.

This figure is even more impressive when you take into account that it's nearly impossible for immigrants to start their own companies even if they are on an H-1B Visa. To keep legal status in this country, immigrants require an H-1B Visa provided by their employers. Leaving that employer to found a startup creates a situation where the entrepreneur doesn't have the necessary coverage to remain in the country legally. And it's very difficult for a startup founded by an immigrant to provide the necessary business documentation to prove it's a real business that merits H-1B status for its founders. And, it doesn't look like Congress is going to be changing this anytime soon. Only once they have permanent resident status, like a green card, will immigrants have the stability needed to properly found a startup. However, receiving a green card is not easy and it's expensive. This is why multiple attempts have been made for Congress to pass resolutions

Now, consider the fact that almost 24% of the workers for high-tech companies are immigrants. Imagine how much more innovation and startup creation would happen in the United States with a better Visa system that enables these smart, driven people to pursue their dreams.

To further complicate the issue, tech companies don't make it a habit to list their green-card sponsorship policies. The top 10 green-card sponsors are heavily comprised of tech companies, yet they also don't seem to publicize their policies. From our research, we found a post on VMWare's career blog saying the sponsorship process can start after 3 months at the firm. In speaking with a person familiar with Facebook's global mobility policy, they said "We don't publicize any of our relocation or internal mobility policies with external entities, unless they sign NDA's."

Quora posts suggest that top tech companies like Google leave the sponsorship decision up to your manager. Employees could qualify to begin the process after their first day, 90th day or at 6-month mark.

These companies should establish more formal outward facing policies and promote them to a greater extent. The benefits of immigrant labor to the tech industry are paramount. Now's the time to rally around this cause.

It makes sense why immigrants would have apprehension to proactively ask their potential employer their green card sponsorship policy. For a large company to sponsor the green card process, it could cost $20,000-$40,000 on top of the fees to transfer and extend the immigrant's H-1B Visa status.

These companies should establish more formal outward facing policies and promote them to a greater extent. The benefits of immigrant labor on the tech industry are paramount. Now's the time to rally around this cause.

Does your company have an open policy about green card sponsorship? If so, what is it? Is it posted on your website? Tweet @AlexMoazed and let me know.

Published on: Apr 10, 2016
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