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Without immigration progress, America loses big

After months of delay and distraction, Washington is finally grappling with the question of immigration reform, and D...

Posted: Jan 17, 2018 7:32 PM
Updated: Jan 17, 2018 7:32 PM

After months of delay and distraction, Washington is finally grappling with the question of immigration reform, and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) in particular.

The struggle has many people talking about a potential government shutdown.

DACA employees boost our economy. According to the Center for American Progress, 91% are employed and 75% of America's biggest companies count a DACA recipient among their employees. If the program ends, almost 700,000 workers would no longer be able to add to our economy or tax revenue.

That's why major tech leaders, including Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and Tim Cook, have asked Congress to defend DACA workers. We need these immigrant innovators. Without them, the US tech industry -- which has created 4.7 million jobs and $1.9 trillion in output in 2015 alone, according to the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) -- will suffer.

Even if the White House and Congress manage to come to a consensus on DACA, the basic problems plaguing our immigration system remain. The system is broken for both illegal and legal immigration. Our H-1B visa cap is far too low: only 85,000 visas are available, and applications hit that cap within four days of the system opening.

The failures of our system are not lost on other countries. A Canadian private-sector firm is snapping up US startups. France has developed a visa expressly for tech innovators. Britain has increased its Exceptional Talent visas by 100%. The competition for top talent is stiff -- and it will only grow more intense in the years to come.

From a business perspective, especially in technology fields, this means that the United States is essentially training the world's best and brightest at our universities and then forcing them to move to other countries to develop innovative products and services. No matter how ingenious an innovator might be or how groundbreaking her concept, she'll be summarily forced to leave if she doesn't win the visa lottery.

According to the Kauffman Foundation, 48% of international students want to remain in the US after graduation. These students, hoping for gainful employment and opportunity, note job prospects as their reason for wanting to stay.

Many of the international innovators at CES- 2018 -- the world's largest tech event, owned and produced by CTA and which took place last week in Las Vegas -- studied here and would like to stay and expand their companies in America, but our system will allow few to do so.

But stay they should, and here's why. As of 2016, according to the National Foundation for American Policy, immigrants founded over 50% of US startups with profits totaling $1 billion or more. They hold leadership or development roles in 70% of such companies -- each of which provides an average of 760 US jobs.

Congress cannot afford to waste any more time. The last time Congress changed the basic structure of our immigration system was 1990 -- long before the internet revolutionized the way we innovate, connect and hire. We need a flexible, nimble system that can evolve along with the changing needs of the job market -- and we need it now.

We must reverse course to attract and retain the world's most ingenious innovators by making the most of our diversity. CTA just released an International Innovation Scorecard that ranks countries on the strength of their innovation economies. Despite America's historic reputation as an international melting pot and the shining city on a hill, Canada, Singapore and Sweden all boast a more diverse workforce than ours. We need to address this ranking by supporting women in management positions and encouraging high-skilled immigration.

We have good ideas on the table. Legislation such as the Bipartisan Startup Act and initiatives such as the International Entrepreneur Rule can also help us increase new venture funding and attract brilliant entrepreneurs to our shores. We need to entice more women into STEM and make executive diversity a focus and a strength.

As Americans, we want to be a people known for our compassion and openness. If Congress can work with President Trump and cut a deal that expands highly skilled immigration and lets us keep our blameless, extraordinary young immigrants, it will be a great triumph -- for the tech industry, jobs, the economy and America as a whole. More, it will show the world that we're open for business and ready to welcome anyone with a great idea and the guts to make it happen.

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