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What Does Immigration Reform Mean for Startups?

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Last month, an immigration bill was drafted and released for discussion. After months of waiting for the "Gang of 8" bill -- not to mention the years of waiting for reform to an immigration system that is broken-- there is finally an idea on the table to discuss, weigh, and decide on.

This is the first real attempt at truly comprehensive immigration reform, and it might actually have a shot. So what does this mean for startups? And why does this matter?

Startups are responsible for nearly all net new job growth for the last three decades. Many of these startups have at least one immigrant cofounder. Immigrants are more than twice as likely to start a business as are native-born Americans. Between 1995 and 2005 immigrants founded or cofounded about one quarter of successful U.S. high-tech firms -- successful meaning at least $1 million in sales and more than 20 workers. High-tech firms are vital to the U.S. economy, with every one high-tech job creating an observed multiplier of four other jobs. More than 40% of Fortune 500 companies in 2010 were founded or cofounded by an immigrant or the child of an immigrant. There is a proven demand for high tech workers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields beyond what we're able to fill with native born workers.

Reading the bill text -- all 844 pages of it -- there are some key provisions that will affect the success of startups, including two kinds of startup visas for foreign born entrepreneurs, as well as eased pathways to hiring foreign-born talent. There's a full rundown of the provisions as they affect startups on the Engine Advocacy site, but the upshot is, this bill could really change the game for entrepreneurs, and the American economy as a whole.

This isn't rhetoric either, but truly an issue that startup founders face as they try to grow their businesses. Ask, for example, Rutul Dave or Sacha Tueni what better immigration policies can do for their businesses. As immigrants themselves, they see the value in keeping minds here, surely, but also see the need to expand that system to more qualified, hungry and entrepreneurial people who can help grow businesses right now, today.

But we're not there yet. There's the committee and amendment process, which is proving to be fraught with the usual politics as different sides weigh in with amendments that could improve or destroy the legislation, depending on your viewpoint. Our organization, Engine Advocacy, sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee just last week in praise of the process so far, and asking Senators to pass sensible immigration reform now. Then there's actually getting the bill passed in both chambers before it can head to the President's desk to be signed into law. There are plenty of ifs and maybes, and the chance to pass legislation this comprehensive doesn't come around often in the political minefield that is immigration.

What can you do:

Engine Advocacy, along with many other groups, is encouraging people to join the March for Innovation -- a place to plug in and get involved in order to keep the pressure on Congress and the momentum behind this bill. The Virtual March, taking place all across the Internet on May 22 and 23, will highlight the diverse aspects of immigration reform using the social and other online tools created by emerging high-growth business to evangelize that message to a national audience.

You can do your part by signing up today, and follow Engine on Twitter and Facebook and through our website. We'll continue to lead the fight for immigration system which can not only benefit our startup community, but our nation as a whole. But we can't do any of it without your support. So sign up, get active, and begin today to build an immigration system that works, a system that scales to meet market demand, and one that leads to increased growth and prosperity across America in the months and years to come.