hate to admit it, but I'm not a fan of Indian food. And it’s not just Indian food, it’s almost any ethnic cuisine. You
see, my immigrant parents aimed to fully assimilate: I’m named Chris, because that was the most popular boychild
name at NY Hospital in 1972, I was encouraged to play baseball because it was the
National Pastime, and nobody likes apple pie as much as me. Nobody.
And since my parents emigrated from different countries – thrown together by fate in Bryant Park on a sunny afternoon in 1970 – there was no
"local cuisine" at home. For better or worse, my tastes were more influenced by the cuisine of Oak Brook, or Northfield, Illinois than by the food of anyplace else.
But there I was, eating lunch at Saravana Bhavan in Sunnyvale (ahh, the things we endure on our spouses' birthdays!) when I started noticing the t-shirts from local start-ups and NASDAQ 100 companies that stood out like a dense chain of barren, monochromatic islands among a colorful, undulating sea of saris. I wondered
how many of these foreign-born tech-sters would still be here in one year's time? Three
years? Five years? Because in case you haven't noticed, America is
facing a brain drain
unlike any in our history.
America? With a brain drain?!? Whoa! Now, there are a ton of reasons for it, but a
key one of them is the byzantine complexity of our immigration
laws. (Check out Manu Kumar's compelling success story to get an idea of the challenges faced by immigrant-entrepreneurs.) But hey, immigration laws are complex because people bemoan the loss of jobs to immigrants; that's a debate that's been going on since the earliest days of the Republic and it's not one that I'll get into here.
But I will say that I'm a huge fan of Paul Graham's Founder Visa idea. Why not allocate 10,000 of today's existing visas specifically to people who want to come here to start companies? I get the whole H-1B controversy, but if someone's here to plant and nurture an entrepreneurial seed in the most fertile soil in the world, let's let them try before they go do it elsewhere and we find ourselves in a Dust Bowl. Anyhow, if someone is trying to start a business, they won't be competing for jobs; the Founder Visa envisions prohibiting these cats from working for existing companies.
And indeed, the impact of these immigrant-founders on the economy is profound. If entrepreneurship is as American as apple pie, then it's got a coconut burfi, a fortune cookie, some strudel, and a maybe a cappuccino or Tim Hortons double double on the side. Some estimate that a quarter of all US start-ups are founded by people born elsewhere while over half of Silicon Valley's are launched by immigrants. These companies aren't just creators of hundreds of thousands of jobs; they're part of the very idea of America, the America where anything is possible.
And that very idea of limitless possibility animated prior generations of immigrants as they helped forge a mighty nation. Their memorial was the New Colossus that stands in New York Harbor. And like those immigrants of yore, this generation of nation-building immigrants deserves a monument. Wouldn't it be fitting for their symbol to be a virtual one, not a physical one?
So, you Twitter-heads among the readership: send a tweet using the #StartupVisa hashtag and include @2gov (or register on 2gov.org – see Eric Ries's post here for instructions). Lend your voice to the clamor seeking to preserve one of the pillars of American entrepreneurship.
Great post. This is such a huge problem that is just not getting enough attention.
I like Paul Graham’s idea as well, if someone wants to come here and build something lets make it really easy.
Also lets make it easy for the brains to stay. They do not compete for “our” jobs they make the overall US economy stronger and larger. Sending them home hurts everyone.
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Nice post. Thanks for supporting the Startup Visa. We’re huge fans too.
We did up a Lord of the Rings spoof to help raise awareness. Check it out – looks like you’re one of the good guys 🙂
Working at a tech co located in a distressed urban area, I would add a idea US politicians could perhaps get behind. Why not allow unlimited or priority visa’s to persons hired by tech companies located in certain distressed urban zones where economic development is needed. This would cause some large tech co’s and start-ups to locate in these distressed areas as they would have a hiring edge (as well as other incentives available). This visa issue may have abated with the economy, but it wil be back — and finding ways to attract jobs or residents to urban areas may be a interesting combo.
The US really should do whatever it can to make it easy for founders to come to the USA as a lot of countries are making it really hard for their local entrepreneurs to set up and succeed at home. So there is demand for supportive environments and the US could fill it! If it does so the USA will strengthen its protective moat in tech (to use a Buffettism).
This post of mine after a panel discussion at Le Web in Paris explains what the problem is with tech entrepreneurship in Europe. http://ascottallison.wordpress.com/2009/12/10/whats-wrong-with-tech-entrepreneurship-in-europe/