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Congress Versus America

Feb 12 2014, 6:48pm CST | by

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Congress Versus America

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Congress Versus America

Just a week ago, there seemed to be some very good news for entrepreneurs and the economy: Democrats and Republicans in Congress looked like they might be moving toward a consensus on immigration and it promised to be a game-changer for the economy.

Now, all that’s been scuttled, perhaps for the entire year – felled by the same political brinksmanship that has dogged this Congress all along.  It’s an incredible disappointment – and yet another shortsighted move by leaders who should be on our side.

What was so promising?

New language that suggested tying work visas to employer demand, a departure from the lottery system or consideration of U.S.-based family members.  It was an encouraging acknowledgement of the talented foreign-born, US-based innovators who are stymied, rejected or in limbo with the current American visa system.  This Republican language was aligned with actions taken late last year by Democrats, who had pushed for more than a four-fold increase in the cap on visas for high-skilled workers (though in the end, the number was merely doubled).

Entrepreneurs, especially here in Silicon Valley, have long argued that foreign-born immigration talent isn’t just useful, but essential, for American competitive might.  There is a serious and painful dearth of the STEM talent that’s required for fueling economic momentum.  In fact, we’re currently graduating more foreign students from American computer science, civil engineering, physics and electrical engineering doctoral programs than we are American ones.  Turning that talent away – especially after investing so much in them on the educational level – seems to me to be an almost criminal level of stupidity.

As I’ve said before, other countries – what I call “venture countries” – are only too delighted to reap the benefits of our overly complex, restrictive and maddening immigration policies.  Perhaps an American-educated computer engineer from India wants to start a company here – but caught in the web of bureaucracy, with no end in sight, reluctantly chooses the United Kingdom, even Chile, as her new port of call.  That means America waves goodbye to intellectual property, jobs, and economy-boosting revenue – it belongs to someone else now.

And that’s a shame because when we look at the value of highly skilled immigrants, it’s – in a word – tremendous. Immigrants accounted for nearly 30 percent of all new business start-ups in 2011, a percentage wildly disproportionate to their population numbers. Publicly traded, immigrant-backed companies that were backed by venture capital accounted for $900 billion in market capitalization as of last year. More than 40 percent of all Fortune 500 company founders were immigrants or children of immigrants.  The United States boasts over 300 Nobel Laureates; nearly one-third were from other countries, including Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, Russia and China.

Restrictive immigration policies, drafted with 20th century fears, simply don’t work on the high-tech playing field of the Digital Age.  Congress was finally – finally! – responding to the nation’s drumbeat – that since the U.S. cannot graduate enough people in STEM fields, which is vital for our economic future, something must be done to support American innovation and business now.  This screeching halt is unacceptable, plain and simple.

When the news on immigration reform looked promising, I thought, better late than never.

Now I’m afraid by the time Congress gets its act together (indeed, if it ever does), it will be too little, too late.

Source: Forbes


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