Steve Case: Reform Immigration for High-Tech Workers

Few people know Silicon Valley as well as Steve Case, the high-tech wonder kid who co-founded America Online (AOL) at the dawn of the internet era – when he was in his early 30s – and went on to start several new businesses. Now a member of President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, Case has become a public advocate for high-tech immigration reform. As a pioneer of the internet age, who has lived through the boom-and-bust cycles of the technology economy, Case speaks with authority on the economic impact of immigration reform.

In a recent op-ed piece in U.S. News and World Report, Case called for a comprehensive solution to America’s immigration problems, one that “unites families and protects communities,” but also ensures “that the world’s most talented innovators and entrepreneurs who are educated in our great universities are able to stay and contribute, rather than be forced to set up competitor businesses abroad.” [See Steve Case: Immigration Reform Can Spur Job Growth, U.S. News and World Report, 07.Dec.2012.]

The crux of the problem, according to Case, is this:

“Today, arbitrary immigration caps force roughly 20,000 American-educated degree holders in science, technology, engineering, and math to leave our country every year. Indeed, the percentage of immigrant-founded startups in Silicon Valley has dropped from 52.4 percent to 43.9 percent in the last seven years. After earning degrees from Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, and MIT – sometimes with subsidies from U.S. taxpayers – we send talented graduates to Singapore, Germany, China, India, and Canada where public policy reforms in those countries are making it more attractive for immigrants. Facebook nearly relocated a key project offshore until the company obtained an H1B visa for a Stanford graduate from Spain.”

Fixing this problem, and fixing it now, is vital to American economic competitiveness, Case says. If we are to retain our “entrepreneurial edge,” he says, we need to lift the per-country cap on employment-based visas, provide special visas for foreign entrepreneurs and STEM graduates. There is bipartisan support for these proposals already, he notes, and the economic benefits are undeniable:

“Research shows that from 2000 to 2007, for every 100 additional foreign-born workers in a STEM field there were 262 additional jobs created for native U.S. workers. From building AOL over two decades to investing in dozens of startups across the country, I’ve seen firsthand how hard it can be to raise capital and expand a company when a key engineer or cofounder has an uncertain immigration status. This slows innovation and stalls economic growth.”

So what are we waiting for?

Note: Steve Case was the keynote speaker at the TiE DC 2012 Annual Gala on December 12th. Murthy Law Firm founder and president, Sheela Murthy, was just elected to the board of TiE DC. You can read more in our blog from 14.Dec.2012.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.