To Create Jobs, Attract and Retain the World’s Best Talent

Steve Case, co-founder of America Online, has a remarkable essay in the Wall Street Journal today about steps other nations have been taking in recent months to attract and retain the world’s best and brightest.

Germany spent the summer rewriting 40% of its immigration laws, significantly easing the bureaucratic hurdles impeding talented, foreign-born engineers and professionals from contributing to the economy there. It will now be easier than ever for U.S.-educated graduate students to start new businesses . . . in Germany.

China used the summer to double down on foreign talent recruitment. Five years after announcing its “1,000 talents program” to lure future business founders from all over the world, China has launched, in recent weeks, more than a dozen national programs offering millions of dollars annually in research grants and venture capital to elite scientists and engineers.

Canada got its new start-up visa program running this summer, explicitly seeking to lure talented entrepreneurs away from Silicon Valley. Our Canadian friends even erected a billboard near San Francisco while Congress was on recess, urging foreign-born innovators to consider leaving Silicon Valley and move north.

Australia – despite having an economy 14 times smaller than America’s – will, as of Sept. 1, offer as many employment-based green cards as the U.S.

Policymakers in these and other countries seem to understand far better than their American counterparts that success in an increasingly competitive global economy depends on access to the best minds and talent the world has to offer.

As we explain in Where the Jobs Are, no topic discussed at our series of 12 roundtables with the nation’s entrepreneurs provoked greater frustration and even anger as America’s current immigration policies.

“I’ve got two co-founders who are not American, along with up to 75 percent of our scientific hires and applicant pool, so visa problems and delays are a major issue for us,” said John Sheffield, co-founder of Seven Bridges Genomics, a Boston-based pioneer in the field of bioinformatics, which Forbes magazine has estimated could develop into a $100 billion industry.“One of my co-founders graduated a few years ahead of me from Harvard and was in the PhD program.He was the number one student in his country’s national exams before he came to Harvard.So he’s exactly the kind of guy that you would want in the United States innovating.He’s published work that made him one of a handful of people in the world who can find a particular class of genetic variation that’s involved in a wide range of cancers and genetic disorders. . . And the struggles that we’ve encountered to keep him working in the United States and appropriately compensated are just ridiculous.And this is occurring in what we call a ‘generative industry,’ where the technologies that we’re creating will be used in any number of industries down stream.”

Such circumstances are highly problematic for several reasons.First, and most tragically, America proudly defines itself as the world’s great melting pot of immigrant cultures and talents, a nation whose most recognizable monument is the iconic statue of Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom, who lifts her torch to illuminate the “golden door” of opportunity.

Second, at a time when official efforts to accelerate economic growth and job creation have focused on fiscal and monetary stimulus – even as the nation struggles to come to terms with staggering levels of government indebtedness – there is ample evidence that targeted, common sense immigration reforms would significantly accelerate job creation without spending a dime of taxpayers’ money.

Most worrisome, our entrepreneurs argue, in an increasingly competitive global economy in which highly skilled talent and brainpower are the resources most sought after, U.S. immigration policies are irrational and self-defeating – exacerbating the serious shortage of skilled American talent that entrepreneurs insist is undermining the formation and growth of new businesses, and, as a result, economic growth and job creation.

“It’s amazing how many international students are in the IT and Engineering programs at Kansas and Kansas State,” Keith Molzer, chief executive of Balance Innovation in Lenexa, Kansas, told us. “I think it’s over 50 percent. And they are the best and the brightest. But they don’t stay here. They graduate and go back to their home countries.We need to find a way to keep those students here to help grow our entrepreneurial talent pool.”

“Let’s at least let people who come here for higher education stay,” said Dr. Kenneth Blaisdell, Associate Dean at Virginia Commonwealth University and Executive Director of VCU’s School of Business Foundation. “It’s just phenomenally stupid in the extreme that we put students through master’s and PhD programs and then we say you have to leave!It’s absolutely nuts!”

One roundtable participant told us a story that would be hilarious were it not so pathetically illustrative of the kind of desperation felt by many foreign-born entrepreneurs who want to build their businesses in America: “I’ve got two good friends that have an early stage start-up.They actually have investment and they’ve grown from just the two of them to seven people.They’re best friends and former college roommates.But one of them is international.They’re two straight guys who are now looking into getting married, just to keep the foreign guy in the country.”

Given the critical importance of immigration reform to new business formation, growth, and job creation as emphasized by our roundtable participants, we recommend the following with the intention of attracting and retaining the world’s best talent:

  • Eliminate the arbitrary and self-defeating cap on H1-B visas.
  • A permanent residency card – “graduation green card” – should be automatically awarded to any foreign-born student meeting national security requirements who graduates from an American college or university with an undergraduate or post-graduate degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics.
  • A high-skill immigrant green card category of at least 50,000 annually should be established to attract top international graduates in STEM fields who meet national security requirements. These preferential green cards should be awarded based on a points system that rewards skills, level of education and training, entrepreneurship, English proficiency, and other key metrics in order to attract applicants with desired economic backgrounds.
  • A special “start-up visa” should be created for foreign-born entrepreneurs meeting national security requirements who want to start a business in the United States and who have secured at least $100,000 in initial funding. Foreign-born entrepreneurs would be admitted on a temporary two-year basis. If by the end of that two–year period their business has been successfully launched, is producing verifiable revenue, and has produced jobs for at least two nonfamily members, the temporary visa would be extended by an additional three years. If the new business continues to be successful and produce verifiable revenue, and has created jobs for at least five nonfamily members by the end of the five-year period, the foreign-born entrepreneur would be granted permanent residency.
  • A new service-toward-citizenship program – “CitizenCorps” – should be established whereby undocumented workers could earn U.S. citizenship over a period of years through extended service to their communities. The program should be modeled on AmeriCorps, the federal program created by the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993, in which participants serve their communities through a network of partnerships with local and national nonprofit groups.


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