Innovation Hub: How Immigrants Fuel Innovation
Immigration policy reform is a hot-button issue right now, but it’s affecting the innovation economy in unexpected ways.
U.S. companies are having a hard time recruiting enough skilled workers to fill all their high-level science, tech, and engineering positions. I discussed the issue with Stanford Law School professor Dan Siciliano and Silicon Valley Leadership Group VP Emily Lam.
[This interview has been edited and condensed. For the full conversation, visit innovationhub.org]
Kara Miller: It feels like a lot of Silicon Valley is comprised of immigrants or the children of immigrants. Is that true?
Dan Siciliano: A little more than half of all startups in the Bay Area were founded with a team that included someone without a green card, or who had recently gotten their green card. If those immigrants suddenly didn’t come, a substantial portion of successful companies in Silicon Valley would not exist.
KM: Does the fight over America’s limited H-1B visas handicap our economy?
Emily Lam: Think about a baseball team and their recruitment. If they said, “we only want American baseball players,” who would we be limiting our talent to? Whether somebody comes from the United States or the Dominican Republic, it doesn’t matter. If you have an idea, if you have great work ethic, our companies want to be able to recruit you from anywhere around the world.
KM: Do foreign-born workers drive down the salaries of people who are born in America?
DS: The preponderance of evidence suggests that no, they do not drive down the wages. In fact, since they tend to be very high-skilled, they’re the catalyst that allows for expansion and growth that, in turn, creates a positive feedback loop that allows for the hiring of more engineers and non-engineers.
KM: Are we facing a time when other countries are trying to get the best people to go elsewhere?
DS: Smaller countries have observed that the United States did a masterful job of having the best and brightest from throughout the world come to the U.S. and become even better educated, and then keeping them. And it drove our economy, and gave us huge advantages.
KM: What are we seeing, in terms of specific recruiting programs?
EM: In Chile, they have a program where they’ll give an entrepreneur forty thousand dollars, free office space, and a visa to bring a startup there. We are rolling out the red tape, and they are rolling out the red carpet. And right next to San Francisco Airport, the Canadian government put up a huge billboard sign that said, “Have visa problems? Pivot to Canada!” Right next to our airport.
Mikaela Lefrak contributed to this report.
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