The celebration of our Nation’s independence is an occasion to remember what has inspired many of the world’s best and brightest to join our way of life—the American Dream.
As far back as 1884, Thomas Edison—America’s most prolific innovator with over 1,000 patents to his name (including the telegraph and light bulb)—took a chance on a bright young electrical engineer from abroad, Nikola Tesla, by employing him at his Edison Machine Works company. Tesla would later become an American citizen and start businesses commercializing his patents in the areas of electrical power systems and AC power.
In the decades that followed, countless immigrant entrepreneurs came to the US and helped grow American jobs. From 1990 to 2005, a study found that 25 percent of venture-backed public companies in the U.S.—including Google, eBay, Yahoo!, Sun Microsystems, and many others included immigrants as founders, creating over 220,000 jobs here in America.
The President believes that we need to reform our immigration system to compete in the 21st century economy. Ensuring that immigrants can start businesses and create jobs here in America is an important pillar of The Administration Blueprint on 21st Century Immigration Reform. For example, the President supports legislation that would create a Startup Visa for job-creating entrepreneurs, so our economy can more directly benefit from their creativity and ingenuity.
It is a message I hear very clearly throughout my travels. Following the President’s call for a national conversation on immigration reform to build a broader consensus on how to fix our broken immigration system, I’ve hosted roundtables in Omaha, Silicon Valley, and most recently, Boston, MA where entrepreneurs, business and civic leaders all expressed concern that our inability to retain top talent is hurting our competitiveness.
In Boston, I heard from MassChallenge, an early partner in Startup America whose 2010 finalists created over 300 new jobs in the US (after only seven months) and raised over $30 million in outside funding. The accelerator invites entrepreneurs from all over the world to enroll in its annual Massachusetts-based startup competition, which in 2010 attracted applicant startups from 26 countries.
While fully addressing comprehensive immigration reform will take legislation, we’ve already taken several administrative steps that can improve our situation in the near-term. In May, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services proposed to streamline the EB-5 visa process, designed for immigrant investors and entrepreneurs who create at least 10 U.S. jobs. Also in May, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) posted an expanded list of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) degrees that enable graduates to qualify for an extra 17 months of Optional Practical Training (OPT).
We understand, however, the limits of these actions. At the Boston Roundtable, I heard from a STEM PhD graduate who is currently on OPT as an entrepreneur. He has hired three people and raised $350,000 in competitive grants for his clean energy startup. Unfortunately, the clock runs out for him next February.
On a personal note, I spent the 4th of July weekend with my immigrant parents who reminded me of their path to achieve the American Dream. My dad enrolled as an engineering graduate student in Villanova and went on to receive three patents in the 1970s for his work on air conditioning products. He grew up in a village that lacked indoor plumbing and electricity, but like millions of others throughout the world, he believed in the story of America.
Let’s work together to rekindle that spirit for the generations that follow.
Aneesh Chopra is US Chief Technology Officer