As Congress Dawdles, the World Steals Our Talent

By Steve Case

Immigration reform is essential to attract the best and brightest.

On immigration reform, this has been a slow summer for Congress. After reform passed the Senate in June, it languished in July. While Washington then went on recess, and now has shifted its focus to Syria, what has the rest of the world been up to on economic advancement?

Germany spent the summer rewriting 40% of its immigration laws, significantly easing the bureaucratic hurdles impeding talented, foreign-born engineers and professionals from contributing to the economy there. It will now be easier than ever for U.S.-educated graduate students to start new businesses . . . in Germany.

China used the summer to double down on foreign talent recruitment. Five years after announcing its “1,000 talents program” to lure future business founders from all over the world, China has launched, in recent weeks, more than a dozen national programs offering millions of dollars annually in research grants and venture capital to elite scientists and engineers.

Canada got its new startup visa program running this summer, explicitly seeking to lure talented entrepreneurs away from Silicon Valley. Our Canadian friends even erected a billboard near San Francisco while Congress was on recess, urging foreign-born innovators to consider leaving Silicon Valley and move north.

Australia—despite having an economy 14 times smaller than America’s—will, as of Sept. 1, offer as many employment-based green cards as the U.S.

All of this is a reminder of the urgent need for action on comprehensive immigration reform, even as Congress also deals with national security and fiscal policy. For while immigration is often debated in the U.S. as a humanitarian matter, or a political matter, or a legal matter (and it is all those things), our global competitors see it for what it is: a critical economic matter in a global race for talent, job creation and innovation.

This is why the House of Representatives needs to swiftly pass a comprehensive immigration reform that gives us the tools to win this global battle for talent, and addresses the other economic, political and moral shortcomings of the current system. Every day that goes by without reform, our economic future is imperiled.

A critical choice lies ahead this fall, which will determine our economic competitiveness for decades. Fifty years ago, policy makers faced a similar watershed as America’s manufacturing base began to decline. Bad decisions on trade, labor relations, education and training policy accelerated a trend toward moving these jobs overseas. We still pay a price today for those choices.

The saving grace of the U.S. economy has been its entrepreneurial sector—startups and new businesses. Startups under five years old have, according to the Kauffman Foundation, created all the net new jobs in America in the past 30 years. Some of the most iconic of these companies are in technology, and I’ve been thrilled to work and help build some of them. Others are outside the tech sector. Chobani Yogurt was launched by an immigrant entrepreneur in upstate New York in 2005. It now generates $1 billion in sales and employs 3,000 workers.

But today, our leadership in entrepreneurship, as in manufacturing 50 years ago, is under increasing competition. Will we win this global battle for talent—successfully recruiting and retaining the men and women who start American companies that create jobs, who drive innovation forward with creativity and expertise, who power these economic engines with their drive and passion? Or will we see America’s advantage move overseas?

At the start of the summer, a large bipartisan majority of the Senate stepped up to meet this challenge. While not perfect, the bill that passed establishes a startup visa for entrepreneurs, raises the cap on H1-B visas for employees in specialty fields, and makes it easier for advanced science, technology, engineering and math degree holders to stay and become citizens.

Taken together, these reforms represent a significant step forward. By creating a pathway to citizenship for those now in the shadows, increasing and enhancing border security, and cracking down on employers who knowingly hire those here illegally, the bill resolves long-standing immigration issues.

The Senate bill is not popular with some, and support for it involves embracing provisions that any one member of Congress may disagree with. But there is little doubt about what we need to do if we want to support job growth, innovation and economic vitality. The data show that every 100 additional foreign-born technology and engineering workers create over 260 jobs for native U.S. workers. They also show that 40% of Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. were started by immigrants or the children of immigrants, employing 10 million people across the globe with $4 trillion in revenue,

Canada, Australia, Germany, China and a growing list of our global competitors are stepping up their game to win the global battle for talent—and every day, they are closing the gap. It’s time for the House to act.

Mr. Case is chairman and CEO of the investment firm Revolution and chairman of the Case Foundation.

A version of this article appeared on  The Wall Street Journal.


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