To create the jobs our economy needs, the US must expand immigration

Sophie Alcorn

As a second-generation immigration attorney, I’ve spent three decades helping people navigate the U.S. immigration system. At my Silicon Valley firm, we support tech entrepreneurs and business owners seeking business-nurturing opportunities that only the U.S. can offer.

My clients are innovators with big American dreams, founding companies that will create thousands of new jobs -- jobs that our economy sorely needs.

President Trump announced his intent to suspend all U.S. immigration amid the COVID-19 pandemic and new restrictions may be coming any day. Severely limiting immigration would be a grave mistake.

The success of America is in large part due to the ingenuity of global transplants. The world has no shortage of brilliant scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs. For decades, they have sought to bring their ideas and their labor to the U.S. We are short-sighted to turn them away.

We are in a greater economic crisis than any of us have ever experienced. As of this writing, more than 40 million Americans have filed unemployment claims. We can create jobs through innovation and immigration spurs innovation. According to the U.S. Treasury Department, immigrants are measurably more likely than nonimmigrants to start businesses. Immigrants founded 25% of the venture-backed American companies that went public between 1990 and 2005, and 33% of those that have gone public since 2006. More than half of America’s “unicorn” start-ups -- those valued at $1 billion or more -- are immigrant-founded.

Contrary to what Trump claims, America is already unduly hostile to those seeking to put down roots here and live their American dream. Just one example: Although many of the world’s promising minds come to the U.S. to pursue advanced degrees, they overwhelmingly don’t have a way to stay here once their schooling is done. Students who aspire to start businesses here after graduating are forced instead to leave our shores and start over from scratch.

Even for the most starry-eyed innovators, the American dream cannot be attained. Many of the world’s best and brightest, after hitting the U.S. immigration brick wall, will end up being wooed away to other countries. They will take their companies public there, contributing new jobs and tax revenue in their second-choice homes. Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to bleed jobs, with no end in sight to either the pandemic or its cascading economic effects.

Alternatively, for people hoping to enter the U.S. having already embarked on their careers, the coveted H-1B visa is often the only option. Available only to those with specialized skills and a job offer from an American employer, H-1B visas can provide a springboard for ambitious innovators wishing to establish themselves professionally in the U.S. But getting one of these visas requires literally winning a lottery, and the lucky few who are selected have to wait months to actually come here, testing the patience of the employers on whom their visas depend.

Ambitious entrepreneurs could go anywhere in the world. Many countries bend over backward to welcome them, with immigration perks and financial grants to attract start-up founders. But even though we try to shut them out, the world’s best entrepreneurs still fight to come here — with good reason. There are Silicon Alleys and Silicon Beaches elsewhere, but none of them have the same concentration of capital, mentors and skilled professionals. For people who want to start unicorn companies that are really going to change the world, the U.S. has the necessary ingredients to take their ideas to scale — including, now, a rapidly growing pool of job-seekers eager to fill new positions. Additionally, immigrant founders tend to be more open to hiring diverse workforces, thus increasing BIPOC recruitment and retention efforts at scale.

Perhaps in a different climate, we could afford to turn up our noses at innovation from overseas. But not anymore. To truly protect our country, revitalize our economy and create opportunity for all, we would be wise to open our borders wider, not slam them shut.

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