Immigrant Entrepreneurs Are People Too
As the Kauffman Foundation, the Partnership for a New American Economy and many others have repeatedly shown, immigrants make great entrepreneurs. We know that 40 percent of 2010's Fortune 500 companies were founded by new Americans. Immigrants start firms at rates much higher than natives. According to Vivek Wadhwa, vice president of Singularity University, 52 percent of Silicon Valley startup companies between 1995 and 2005 were founded or co-founded by immigrants. And, we know that immigrants are innovators. Recent research by the Partnership for a New American Economy found that 76 percent of all patents at the top 10 patent-producing universities in the U.S. had at least one foreign-born inventor.
So shouldn't our country celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of these highly skilled, risk-taking immigrant entrepreneurs and innovators? Shouldn't we welcome them with open arms and encourage them to come to the United States? And, don't we need the job-creating companies these people will build now more than ever?
It sounds simple enough, but our immigration policy and enforcement agencies treat these individuals as second-class citizens—constantly threatening them with deportation, fines, and harassment. This attitude punishes them for taking risks and encourages them to start their companies, and the jobs that go with it, in their home countries, rather than here.
At the Kauffman Foundation we’ve recently tried to humanize this issue through a series of videos that puts a human face on the immigrants that come here not only to seek a better life for themselves, but to help create a better life for all of us. We asked a few successful entrepreneurs to tell us their stories, not only about the companies they created, but about the struggles they faced as immigrant founders. You can view the videos here.
"Out of the box thinking is always very natural for anyone who is out of the box," says Desh Desphande, a serial entrepreneur featured in the videos. If we want to have the most innovative economy in the world, we‘ve got to do a better job of attracting the best and brightest from around the globe. We already attract them through our world-class higher education system, but then we send them back to their home countries when they've finished their degrees. Or, fearing deportation, they put their dreams of starting a new company on the back burner while they take a job that will provide a visa sponsorship.
U.S. Senator Jerry Moran, who is also the co-sponsor of the Startup Act 2.0, a bill that attempts to address this problem, has been working to change the perception of immigrant entrepreneurs and their contributions to our economy. He recently released a video that profiles a French immigrant who is working on a new technology company that can help doctors see inside the human heart. The entrepreneur is facing deportation if he doesn’t get his visa extended, which will force him to take his technology, and the engineering jobs associated with it, back to France.
The video also points out that seven countries have recently changed their visa policies to be more open to immigrant innovators. The United States is not one of them.
It's important to remember that these are real people with real ideas on how they can make our world a better place. They have the smarts, the talent and the expertise to bring new products and services to consumers in ways we can't predict. They want to start their companies here. They want to test out their ideas in the great melting pot, stir them around, and birth the new.
Attracting more of the best and brightest from around the world will mean more entrepreneurs starting new companies and trying to bring new innovations to market. More startups mean more jobs and more jobs means more wealth for society. Here;s some out of the box thinking – let’s address these immigration problems and do a better job celebrating the accomplishments of immigrant entrepreneurs.