We are in the entrepreneurship business. As a startup founder and director of a program that accelerates the growth of innovative companies across the United States, we are no strangers to the challenges that entrepreneurs face on their road to success. Increasingly, our country’s broken immigration system is presenting a bigger hurdle to Southern California companies looking to grow their businesses.
Our window into the world of startups has also given us a front-row seat to the impediments to innovation caused by our outdated visa system.
Consider Chen, a South African citizen and Yale graduate, who waited two years to receive a temporary visa that allowed her to stay in the United States for only three years. In that time, she founded a rapidly growing company that now employs more than 30 people in downtown.
A report from the Partnership for a New American Economy says that because of our broken immigration system and the inability for U.S. employers to fill jobs set aside for high-skilled immigrants in 2007 and 2008, the U.S. economy lost out on more than 400,000 jobs for both U.S. and foreign-born workers in computer-related fields in 2009, as well as the tax revenue that would have accompanied that employment growth.
We are part of a group of committed leaders in the L.A. technology industry who believe immigration reform is a fundamental issue to the growth of our industry and economy, and for the strength of our communities. As members of the FWD.us Innovation Council in Los Angeles, we advocate for policies that keep the American Dream achievable in the 21st century, and immigration reform is the cornerstone of that agenda.
As we head into the general election, we are keeping immigration reform at the top of our minds.
We urge voters, presidential candidates, and members of Congress to support programs that will retain the talent critical to keeping us globally competitive into the future. This type of reform is a moral imperative for our country because stories such as ours – and those of our fellow council members – are not rare.
This year, for example, more than 250,000 people applied in a lottery system for H-1B employer-sponsored visas for which there are only 85,000 slots (and 20,000 of those are allotted to applicants with a graduate degree). In fact, a 2015 study by the Pew Research Center says that the number of foreign students studying in the United States grew by 72 percent between 1999 and 2013, and more than half of all doctoral graduates in STEM fields were foreign students. Unfortunately, their options to stay in the United States after graduation to pursue their own ventures remain limited. Because of this, many of these students return to their native countries with their education and ideas.
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