Entrepreneurs in Residence Program

The Obama administration’s top immigration official has said he wants to keep more foreign-born high-tech entrepreneurs in the U.S. but that to make it happen he needs those entrepreneurs to turn their creativity to immigration itself. Members in Silicon Valley’s startup community met with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) Director Alejandro Mayorkas for what the agency labeled as a summit to officially launch its “Entrepreneurs in Residence” program. The event, which was held on the campus of the NASA Ames Research Center, sought to address a common complaint made by the technology industry: that non-citizens who come to the U.S. to study end up starting companies in their home countries because they say the immigration process has become too daunting. Mr. Mayorkas said that “to fail to do [this program] is to fail to capture the lost potential to create jobs for U.S. workers when the need for those jobs is more acute.”

Theimmigration process should not be something entrepreneurs who are seeking to create jobs with their creativity should have to worry about. The Obama administration has pushed for more liberal policies to keep foreign-born engineers and scientists in the country. In this year’s State of the Union address, he called for reforms: “Let’s at least agree to stop expelling responsible young people who want to staff our labs, start new businesses, defend this country,” the president said. In December, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill that would eliminate caps on the percentage of visas that could go to immigrant workers from a specific country, clearing the way for more engineers to come to the U.S. The bill, however, does not increase the total number of available visas. Opponents of easing the immigration path for highly skilled workers argue that equally qualified U.S. citizens are displaced by foreign-born employees willing to work for less in exchange for gaining the right to live in the U.S. In a study made by the Harvard Business School associate professor William Kerr, it was found that fluctuations in the number of visas granted to skilled workers over several years appeared to have little effect, positive or negative, on the job market for native-born engineers and scientists—rebutting the arguments posed by immigration opponents. The fact is this: there is a wealth of evidence that points to the fact that without immigrants the pool of creative input and entrepreneurship that has come to define the United States and put it at the forefront of the commercial market worldwide would be severely diminishing, possibly beyond repair. Furthermore, as a specialist from a high powered Silicon Valley firm said, “take immigrants out of Silicon Valley and you have no Silicon Valley.” Although the USCIS’s “Entrepreneurs in Residence” program alone won’t fix what he calls “the reverse brain drain” of foreign-born entrepreneurs leaving the U.S. to fund companies back home that compete with this country’s businesses, it is a good—and highly necessary—place to start.

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