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Citizenship and Our Global Competitive Advantage

My immigration story is not inherently about family or necessity— it is about the pursuit of opportunity.

August 21, 1991 was a pivotal day—it was the day I boarded a plane in my native Lahore, Pakistan and traveled to the United States to pursue higher education and eventually build a career. Today, I am fortunate to be leading a global technology company based in Silicon Valley and having the honor of representing my community at the federal level as a member of President Obama’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI).

My immigration story is not inherently about family or necessity— it is about the pursuit of opportunity. I was drawn to America’s innovative spirit and the possibility that I could do anything if I worked hard at it. The entrepreneurial spirit that drew me to this country is America’s core strength. And for America to inspire and attract future generations of the world’s finest talent, a fair and efficient immigration system is a must.

My role in the private sector involves significant travel and work abroad. I see how emerging markets are fast catching up with the developed economies through investments in education, science and technology, and the adoption of dynamic economic policies. In an increasingly competitive global environment, immigration is critical to the United States' maintenance of its competitive advantage across the globe. Immigrants have built some of the most innovative companies in the world. They maintain critical networks in countries of origin which facilitate American exports. In Silicon Valley a significant number of founding teams of technology companies are comprised of immigrants from Asia. Across the country, immigrants improve the nation’s economic productivity and contribute immensely to sectors across our economy. A recent White House report has documented their economic impact.

As an immigrant who came to this country as a college student, joined the high-tech industry as a professional, and is now serving as C.E.O of a technology venture managing a global team, I have experienced first-hand the challenges of our broken immigration system. Our broken immigration system hampers the flow of immigrant contributions to the country’s economy. Streamlining and improving immigration processes for future drivers of the U.S. economy––students who want to pursue careers in engineering, aspiring entrepreneurs who would create jobs for Americans, trained professionals who possess high-demand skills––would only enhance immigrants’ positive impact on the United States economy and society overall. I am proud to stand amongst “the Geeks” as the White House spotlights the best of those in the STEM field this week through the “We the Geeks” Google+ Hangout series.

Immigration reform, however, will not be whole and fair without a comprehensive approach. The economic imperative of drawing engineers and scientists to the United States is not at the expense of addressing the moral challenge posed by the presence of millions of undocumented immigrants in this country. Silicon Valley, where I work and live with my family, is also home to undocumented immigrants who play an important role in the region’s economic vitality, and who would significantly benefit the U.S. economy if they were brought out of the shadows. With the proposed commonsense reform that recently passed the Senate with a strong bipartisan majority, we have a historic opportunity to build a smart, effective immigration system that continues efforts to secure our borders, requires every business and every worker to play by the same set of rules and provides an earned path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Together we can build a fair immigration system that lives up to our heritage as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.

Dilawar Syed, President and CEO of the Silicon Valley-based Yonja Media Group, is a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.