October 29, 2014

minature statues of liberty

The Statue of Liberty is the iconic greeting to immigrants coming to the U.S. Credit: Lotus Carroll / Flickr Creative Commons

If you’re looking for a fun, simple task, don’t try applying for a U.S. work visa.
 
“It’s a lot of red tape, and it’s very expensive,” says Dan Siciliano, a professor at Stanford Law School and an expert on the U.S. immigration system.  Despite the fact that half of all Silicon Valley startups have at least one foreign-born founder, he says, “we make it quite burdensome" for entrepreneurs and highly-skilled workers to move to the U.S.
 
The process is so difficult that U.S. companies are now struggling to recruit enough scientists, engineers, and technologists with proper temporary work papers, called H-1B visas. “We’re now the folks that are the beggars, not the choosers,” says Siciliano.
 
Countries like Chile and Australia are taking advantage of the opportunity and instituting programs to woo skilled immigrants themselves, offering startup funding, renewable visas, and even free office space to entrepreneurs willing to relocate.
 
“We are rolling out the red tape, and those people are rolling out the red carpet,” says Emily Lam, a vice president at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.
 
But sustaining the U.S.’s culture of immigrant entrepreneurship is not just about offering more H-1B visas, according to Siciliano.  Creating a path for citizenship for a broad mix of people, including refugees and whole family units, “has been a bit of our secret sauce,” he says.
 
“You can’t just cherry-pick the super-talented by looking at first generation immigrants,” Sciliano says.  One shining example is Google co-founder Sergey Brin, the son of Jewish refugees from Russia who moved to the U.S. when Brin was a boy.
 
Lam, who is the daughter of Peruvian immigrants of Chinese descent, believes the long-term success of American companies depends on their ability to employ the best workers, regardless of their background. “If you have an idea, if you have great work ethic, our companies want to be able to recruit you from anywhere around the world,” she says.

Emily Lam, immigration, Business, Dan Siciliano, politics, immigration reform

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