Cautionary Tales: Why CIR Can’t Wait

The fate of comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) remains uncertain, at best, as the House of Representatives haltingly works its way through the crowded legislative agenda to which it returned at the beginning of the month. We won’t rehearse here the welter of economic arguments that favor CIR; we’ll take that part as read, because to most observers, it’s long since become clear that CIR is an economic imperative, one that can’t wait.

As we’ve noted in the past, the market for the world’s best and brightest is truly international, and competition to attract them is fierce. At the same time, we in the United States can no longer assume that everyone with talent will want to come here eventually. Other markets beckon, and to stay in the game, we need stronger, truly world-class incentives that will attract and retain more of the world’s creative class: the scientists, engineers, innovators, and entrepreneurs who will build the next Google, the next Intel, the next eBay.

Two recent articles give a finer point to the sense of urgency Congress ought to feel about the need for CIR. One, in Entrepreneur magazine, tells the story of a biotech startup that’s been hard at work in Silicon Valley, perfecting a way to synthesize proteins into artificial meat. [See As Startup Visa Bill Languishes, Entrepreneurs Leave the U.S., by Joseph Adinolfi, Entrepreneur, 10.Sep.2013.] Test-tube meat may not sound especially appetizing, but the technology could prove extremely valuable – and lucrative – in a world where demand for meat products has been rising for years, a trend that’s expected to continue. [See, e.g., Global Meat Production and Consumption Continue to Rise, Worldwatch Institute, 2013.]

Though the entrepreneurs behind this technology are creating something new here, there’s no guarantee that they – or their invention – will stay in the United States. As Entrepreneur notes:

“The team includes members from Canada, Russia, Australia, Greece, Italy, and the U.S. Because of the difficulty that most of them would face securing U.S. visas, they will likely continue their research outside the U.S., taking their innovations with them.”

The point of the article is simple: we need more ways for foreign-born innovators to build their businesses in the United States, and we especially need the type of entrepreneur’s visa that the Startup Visa Act would create – a more flexible and permissive system that would not require applicants to put up their own money as a condition of getting the visa; investors could do that for them. According to Entrepreneur, the Senate-passed CIR bill contains several key provisions of the Startup Visa Act. The rub, of course, is that immigration reform is looking more and more like a dead letter in the House of Representatives.

Then there’s this dispatch from the reverse-brain-drain department: a Forbes article describing the lure of working in China for talented expats from the U.S., Canada, Japan, Germany, and Australia. [See Slowly, Americans Moving To China, by Kenneth Rapoza, Forbes, 15.Sep.2013.] Right now only a trickle of foreigners receive the Chinese equivalent of the green card, Forbes is quick to point out, but it notes that these numbers are increasing. As a Chinese immigration official told Forbes, “The principle of China’s ‘green card’ regulation is to attract foreign talent to promote economic and social development and enhance international communication.”

The American immigration system rests on similar good intentions, though we have yet to modernize our system and bring it into line with current realities: that the U.S. is no longer the only place in the world for bright, ambitious, and entrepreneurial-minded people to seek their fortune. Congress should recognize this and lose no more time in creating the state-of-the-art immigration system we need to compete in the modern economy. Once again: what are we waiting for?

Copyright © 2013, MURTHY LAW FIRM. All Rights Reserved

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