The Economist: Silicon Valley Innovators Press for Immigration Fix

Silicon Valley is world famous for its culture of innovation, for a hothouse atmosphere where new ideas can grow – seemingly overnight – into successful companies, even entirely new industries. It can’t hurt that investors often are tripping over each other to pour money into promising startups there, or that local companies can tap the expertise of Stanford, Berkeley, and other great universities in the area. More than anything else, though, the success of Silicon Valley depends on the synergies that are only possible when you have a critical mass of exceptionally talented people all working in the same place.

From this perspective, immigration reform should be simple: input more smart people from around the world, receive several multiples of economic benefit. Yet, as a recent article in The Economist points out, Silicon Valley is increasingly at loggerheads with Washington politicians who are putting ideology before economics, refusing to pass immigration reforms that would enable high-tech businesses to recruit more of the world’s best and brightest. [See A Plea for Open Doors, The Economist, 22.Feb.2014.]

As we have noted before, Facebook co-founder, Mark Zuckerberg, is among the leading Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who are pressing Congress for action on immigration reform. [See, e.g.: Zuckerberg Group Broadens Immigration Reform Lobbying Efforts, MurthyBlog, 06.Aug.2013.] He has plenty of Silicon Valley high rollers to keep him company, according to The Economist, including Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn, Drew Houston of Dropbox, and Andrew Mason of Groupon, among others. Under the mantle of, they are continuing to make the tech industry’s case for a more fluid and business-friendly immigration system.

In an editorial for the Washington Post, quoted in The Economist, Mr. Zuckerberg neatly capsulized what’s at stake:

“In a knowledge economy, the most important resources are the talented people we educate and attract to our country. Why do we kick out the more than 40% of math and science graduate students who are not U.S. citizens after educating them? Why do we offer so few H1B visas for talented specialists that the supply runs out within days of becoming available each year, even though we know each of these jobs will create two or three more American jobs in return? Why don’t we let entrepreneurs move here when they have what it takes to start companies that will create even more jobs?”

These questions cut to the heart of the matter, and Congress would be well advised to take note. To underscore the point, The Economist provides a bit of cross-cultural perspective: British businesses now complain that it’s increasingly difficult to find qualified candidates – especially in STEM fields – because of an overly-cumbersome visa program for high-tech workers, and a new wave of immigration restrictions promulgated by the British government. Perhaps there’s a lesson in here for us?

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