Getting the Immigrants We Really Need

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Getting the Immigrants We Really Need

The Wall Street Journal1 published a curious set of statistics in late 2009.  Immigrants make up 12.5 percent of the population of the United States, but they make up 40 percent of all the founders
of technology companies in America.  Fully 52 percent of the companies in Silicon Valley were started by foreign-born residents.  Among the iconic American firms whose founders emigrated to the United States are Google, Pfizer, Intel, Yahoo, DuPont, eBay, and Procter & Gamble.

Yet, our policy toward such valuable immigrants makes little sense.  We welcome them in as students, give them the best education available in science, math, and engineering, and then force them to leave.  Of course, some of them can come in under an H-1B visa, which requires them to work for a big, established company. 

But the most valuable of all — the ones who are eager to start their own business and make it big — are sent packing.  They can get in line and wait perhaps five years to get a visa, but people like that — people with big, game-changing ideas — don't sit around and wait.  They go where the action is. 

According to a recent article in AOL Small Business,2 a bipartisan movement is growing in Congress to rectify this short-sighted policy through the creation of what is being called the Startup Founders Visa Program.  Its supporters include Newt Gingrich, the Republican former Speaker of the House, and Colorado Democratic Congressman Jared Polis.

This powerful idea was introduced in 2008 by the Kauffman Foundation.3  If 10,000 foreign entrepreneurs were allowed into the U.S. every year, in just a few years these talented foreigners could start thousands of new businesses, produce hundreds of thousands of new jobs, and reshape the American economy. 

As reported in BusinessWeek,4 such candidates for "startup visas" could be identified by the quality of their ideas and their ability to raise venture capital.  The investors would nominate a candidate for the visa and make a formal agreement to put venture capital into the company.  A board would be established to vet the applications and their merits.  If the idea passed muster, the immigrant would get the visa. 

A senior fellow at the Kauffman Foundation recently proposed, in addition, that foreigners who are educated in science or engineering in the U.S. should automatically get a visa to work here upon graduation.  That would cut red tape to a minimum...

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