Last week the Obama Administration's top immigration official, Alejandro Mayorkas, held an event with some of the nation's most important innovators. Key players in Silicon Valley's startup community met with the Immigration Service Director at the NASA Ames Research Center, just a short drive down Highway 101 from Google, Facebook, and hundreds of other established and fledging tech companies. The mission of the event was simple: engage stakeholders who form the engine of entrepreneurial activity in the country and figure out how to make the U.S. immigration system less of a hindrance to their work.
The event was billed as a success by the White House as 150 entrepreneurs, attorneys and thought leaders met for the day and the administration launched its Entrepreneurs in Residence Initiative that hopes to tap Silicon Valley's innovative know-how on how to fix an existing system that is beginning to seriously chafe the flow of top-talent to high-tech giants and startups alike. There's only so much the administration can do without legislative support however. The StartUp Visa Act, which was introduced by Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Richard Lugar (R-IN), and Mark Udall (D-CO) almost a year ago last March, is one such proposal that aims to alleviate some of the hurdles that high-tech businesses face in finding quality talent. Many of the leaders at last week's summit called for passage of the StartUp Visa Act as a critical step in moving this issue forward.
Now, let's step back for a second. Most of the business leaders in Silicon Valley and beyond agree that attracting the best-educated workforce possible makes America's economy not only stronger but also more competitive in the long-term. Our immigration policies however, seem to be limiting the flow of high-skilled workers and our ability to concentrate the best minds in the world here in the United States. Limits on H-1B visas mean companies can't attract all the top-talent they need to keep innovation moving as rapidly as possible and the failure of Congress to act on issues like the DREAM Act means that tens-of-thousands of undocumented immigrants who are tying to invest in a better life through education will not be able to use those skills to make America better.
Legislation like the StartUp Visa Act and the DREAM Act tackle the same issue in American civic life, ensuring that the hard work of individuals who want to grow and contribute to the American economy is rewarded and that the United States continues to be that shining city on a hill that brings out the very best in those with a positive vision for this nation.
Proponents of legislation like the StartUp Visa Act and the DREAM Act need to see each other as natural allies. An alliance between both groups could focus in on the very real problem that an outdated immigration system hurts our economic potential. Silicon Valley is perhaps ground zero in this reality as a few short miles from Sand Hill Road are intersections like Story and King in East San Jose where too many are left out of the potential to join America's high-tech workforce because either they lack access to higher education because of status or were lucky enough to get a degree but now lack work authorization. My own former roommate here at Harvard graduated last year with honors, but because of failure of the government to act, is relegated to work in occupations where he can't utilize the skills he acquired at arguably the best university in the world.
A real dream team for winning the future of America starts with putting these relationships together. Coalescing business interests with common sense immigration policies would send an incredibly strong message to Congress, to whom President Obama told in his State of the Union, "Let's at least agree to stop expelling responsible young people who want to staff our labs, start new businesses, [and] defend this country." By focusing on this common need for reform both groups could help young people who want to make America into that more perfect union.