Silicon Valley Remains a Testament to Immigrant Innovation

America’s status as a beacon for immigrants is nearly as old as our nation itself. Attracting the best and the brightest from all over the world is a fundamental element of our history, and it has resulted in unique creations and innovations that have transformed our culture and benefited the world. Nowhere else in the United States is the impact of immigrants so evident than in San Francisco’s tech mecca, Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley is arguably the technological epicenter of the planet, a place where groundbreaking ideas are forged and pioneering companies like Google, Tesla, and Instagram are formed. And most industry insiders attribute immigrants as being a key factor to the international influence of the Silicon Valley region. As John Collison, an Irish immigrant who co-founded a payment start up named Stripes explained to The New York Times, “Silicon Valley is unlikely, as a phenomenon – it is not the default state of the world. I go all across the world, and every other place is asking, ‘How do we replicate Silicon Valley where we are – in London, in Paris, in Singapore, in Australia?'”

But recreating the success of Silicon Valley on an international scale has proved elusive, for a simple reason – the most proficient inventors and entrepreneurs want to come to the U.S. The prevailing logic is that, since Silicon Valley has the best talent, it will continue to attract the best talent. Research seems to back up this sentiment. Last year, the National Foundation for American Policy, a nonpartisan think tank, determined that half of all privately held U.S. startups, valued at $1 billion or more, were founded by immigrants. These include the founder of Google, who is originally from Russia, and the chief executive of Yahoo, who was born in Taiwan. [See Why Silicon Valley Wouldn’t Work Without Immigrants, by Farhad Manjoo, New York Times, 8.Feb.2017.]

There are several prevailing theories as to why immigrants continue to play such a crucial role in the U.S. tech boom. Although this country has a well-educated populace, most experts agree that true innovation isn’t as simple as plugging someone with a degree into a tech position. It requires leadership, intuition, and the willingness to take risks, and these are qualities that can’t necessarily be taught. As Aaron Levie, the co-founder and chief executive of cloud storage company Box noted to The New York Times, “It’s not about adding tens or hundreds of thousands of people into manufacturing plants. It’s about the couple ideas that are going to be invented that are going to change everything.”

With the recent crackdowns on immigration, it’s important to remember that immigrants have always been among us, and that they have been the architects of some of the most extraordinary technological innovations that the world has ever seen. To imperil their entry to our nation now would be a devastating blow to our place on the global stage.


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