Innovation Drives America Forward, and So Will Comprehensive Immigration Reform

On behalf of FWD.us, I’m writing to make it clear why so many tech leaders and community members support passage of comprehensive immigration reform. 

Our organization is made up of a diverse group from all corners of the tech community and supports comprehensive immigration reform, not just reforms to the H1B visa program. Immigration reform is the right thing to do morally, economically, and to honor our identity as a nation of immigrants. The Senate bill fixes a broken system, improves our border security, and brings millions of people out of the shadows. It will cut the deficit by over $100 billion, boost the economy, and create jobs.

As our community becomes more politically engaged in this debate, we’ve heard false criticisms around the issue of visas for high-skilled workers, including that they undercut American workers with cheaper foreign labor and that they exploit those very workers by trapping them in “indentured servitude.” Both of these claims are patently false and belie a misunderstanding of both the economics of a knowledge economy and of the bill that just passed in the Senate. A knowledge economy is not zero sum, with a finite number of jobs to fill. Rather, the more talented people we have, the more economic value we can create.

Immigrant engineers do not displace American engineers; they instead fill positions that would otherwise remain vacant. This is because tech companies have a bar of quality such that hiring no engineers is preferable to hiring average ones, regardless of their country of origin. American engineers, among the best in world, are strong advocates for bringing in more immigrant engineers because they know that the demand for great engineers far exceeds supply.

I have started two tech companies, and have hired dozens of engineers from outside the country. Most tech founders will tell you that the number one challenge in growing a company is finding enough qualified engineers. We recently hosted an event at Y Combinator where over 100 startup founders shared example after example of how their attempts to grow their companies were stifled by our broken immigration system. We even had founders who had to join remotely because they were trapped in other countries, creating jobs there instead of in America. Brian Chesky, CEO of AirBNB, said engineering is the only department where they have no hiring caps; they will hire every engineer they can who meets their bar.

The bill out of the Senate strengthens protections for American workers. It proposes increases in wages required for H1B workers — beyond the current requirement that employers pay those workers the same as their American counterparts. It adds new fees to H1B visas, which both increase the incentive to hire Americans first, and also puts money towards STEM education for Americans. Finally, the bill ends the abuses of so-called “job shops,” where immigrants are brought in as consultants and then rented to US companies at below market wages.

The comprehensive immigration reform we are pushing for helps to assure that foreign workers are treated well, not as “indentured servants” as a recent editorial calls them. The bill that just passed the Senate increases the amount of time people can stay in the U.S. between jobs, allows the spouses of those on H1Bs to work, and streamlines the green card system to help people move from H1B to permanent resident and then citizen as quickly as possible. Finally the bill includes a startup visa that makes it easier for those on H1B visas to leave their jobs and start a company without fear of losing their ability to stay in the United States. Those who are in favor of people with H1Bs being treated well should be in favor of this bill, not against it.

Current statistics reinforce the value of immigrants to our economy. In 2011, immigrants started 28% of the new businesses in the U.S. Of the top 25 tech companies, 56% were started by first or second generation Americans. 42% of scientists at the top 7 cancer research centers are foreign-born. The list goes on and on, as do the powerful personal stories of those who came to this country and contributed, and those who wanted to come and couldn’t. Besides the benefits that accrue to the immigrants themselves, they also bring enormous economic opportunity for companies, communities, and for families.

There are synergies in having talented people. Ideas breed ideas, talent attracts talent, and opportunities breed opportunities. Immigrant engineers do not displace American engineers; they create new opportunities. Tech is one of the leading growth industries in the U.S., and, unlike many industries, one where companies want to create jobs in America.

Not only is the bill the Senate passed a broad bill, but also it enjoys a range of support in Silicon Valley. While most of the attention on our group focuses on the many of the tech leaders who have joined FWD.us to promote the passage of the bill, there are thousands of other people from every part of our community that have joined in this fight. In the weeks leading up to Senate passage thousands of people, including the same middle class workers referenced in this story, reached out to Senators asking them to vote for reform.

Mark Zuckerberg isn’t the only person in the Valley to post on his Facebook page and, like him, our activists are working to pass comprehensive reform because it’s what’s right for our country and our economy.

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Joe Green

Joe founded FWD.us to organize and engage the tech community on issues of vital importance to America's global competitiveness. Previously, he founded Causes and co-founded NationBuilder to realize his belief that social networks enable community organizing at a previously unknown scale. These two successful companies combine the best of traditional organizing with new technologies, making the tools of democracy more widely available and empowering people to become leaders. Joe started in local politics by winning election to his local school board while he was still in high school. He went on to work on several other political campaigns at the local, state and national level, including John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign. He is a Board Member of the Salesforce Foundation.

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