Entrepreneurs, Stay Out! The Utter Idiocy of U.S. Immigration Law

If America wants to solve its innovation problem, solving its immigration problem would be a good start.

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People with creative ideas, intellectual talents and personal ambition drive innovation. From advances in science, mathematics and health care to new technologies, products and companies, America has always relied on individual and collective breakthroughs in human knowledge and production to enhance our lives and our economy. As the nation continues to find ways to improve the educational and life opportunities of its own citizens to help spark innovation, we should not ignore an obvious source of human capital--those from other nations.

If America wants to solve its innovation problem, solving its immigration problem would be a good start.

Immigrants founded 1 in 4 public companies between 1990 and 2005, like Intel, Yahoo, and Google.

Although clichés about smart and eager immigrant children and their "Tiger mothers" abound in popular discourse, it is worth acknowledging that the foreign born and their families are a powerful source of new ideas. Immigrant-led innovation is a core part of our history and our current economic reality. From the farmer and merchant entrepreneurs who first settled here to the multitudes of immigrant small business owners and startup founders today, America always has been a place where skilled and inventive people from around the world come to realize their dreams. What's more, an impressive body of literature indicates that diversity is positively correlated with innovation.

Immigrants who come to the United States to study at our best universities and then go to work at our nation's leading companies contribute directly and immediately to our nation's global economic competitiveness. High-skilled immigrants who have started their own high-tech companies have created hundreds of thousands of new jobs and achieved company sales in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

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All of us benefit greatly from this surge of human energy and aptitude. Consider the following: immigrants founded 1 in 4 of the publicly traded companies created between 1990 and 2005. Prominent companies founded by immigrants and their families include Intel, Solectron, Sun, eBay, Yahoo, and Google. And foreign nationals in U.S. were inventors or co-inventors of 25 percent of all patents filed in U.S. in 2006.

To be certain, improving our high-skill immigration policies must not be considered a substitute for investing in our homegrown workforce. Improving access to top-flight education for everyone in this country is a national imperative. It is true, as is often pointed out, that two thirds of doctorates from U.S. universities in engineering and computer science are awarded to foreign born students. But it is also true that some 96 percent of all Bachelor's degrees in the sciences and engineering fields go to U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Making it easier financially for these homegrown engineers and scientists to pursue advanced degrees will be the foundation for our continued global leadership and prosperity.

Nor are high skill reforms a substitute for the manifold problems that afflict our immigration system. Broader reforms that bring undocumented workers in to the legal fold and keep families together are crucial to spurring economic growth and protecting American workers. Moreover, immigrants at all skill levels carry the potential for important entrepreneurial and innovative contributions.

THROWING AWAY OUR INVESTMENT IN MINDS

At the same time we must recognize that our university system already attracts the best and brightest minds from around the world and then forces these immigrant students into a difficult choice upon graduation--go home or find an employer to sponsor their entry into what amounts to a lottery that might allow them to stay and work. This makes no sense.

Presented by

Marshall Fitz & John Halpin

Marshall Fitz is Director of Immigration Policy at American Progress, where John Halpin is a Senior Fellow focusing on political theory, communications, and public opinion analysis.

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