Profit Minded

Why Small Businesses Should Care about Immigration Reform

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s an immigrant entrepreneur who has navigated the process from student visa to work visa to finally becoming a naturalized citizen, I have firsthand knowledge of how our immigration system works -- or doesn’t work, as is often the case. Today, as a Managing Director of Hattery, a venture capital firm in San Francisco, I see many other entrepreneurs facing off against an outdated system as they set about the important work of creating new businesses in the United States.

The economic benefits of immigration are well documented. We can see the success of companies founded or cofounded by an immigrant. We also know the correlation between the presence of high-skilled immigrant workers and the number of local jobs created in the U.S. economy. Behind that data is a story of prosperity built on the back of immigration that has been part of the American story since its founding.

Despite this, America faces a real problem when it comes to immigration. There’s a gap in the labor force that is hindering the growth of high-growth startups and generally slowing down the economic recovery.

So, how do we solve it?

Apart from pushing immigration reform bills through Congress, there are limited options to improve the system. The political climate of the past several years has made this type of reform almost impossible. For much of the past year as a USCIS Entrepreneur-in-Residence, I’ve been working with a group of entrepreneurs, investors, and immigration experts from the USCIS to help simplify the existing visa process, especially for foreign-born entrepreneurs.

A key issue we identified at the beginning of the EIR program was the confusion an entrepreneur faces in deciding which of the many visas she should petition for -- there is H-1, L, O, OPT for recent grads, and the list goes on. Recently, we launched Entrepreneur Pathways, a new site linked to the USCIS site which serves as a guide through the process for entrepreneurs who want to come to America to build business. The site was featured on the White House blog, and we hope it will create better interactions for entrepreneurs seeking visas as well as foster better understanding between entrepreneurs and regulators. To help achieve the latter aim, we’ve also designed and rolled out training for visa adjudicators on issues such as startup structures, financing, documentation, and operations.

The EIR program started as a 90-day experiment, and has become a year-long journey in which we’ve worked on some of the foundational processes of our immigration system. But beyond the changes we can make under the current frameworks, there are some significant steps that Congress must take in order to expand our access to the pool of qualified workers and entrepreneurs born outside of the country.

In coordination with many others from across the spectrum of interested parties, Engine Advocacy -- a startup advocacy group that I advise -- is working to create movement on proposals like Startup Act, the STEM Visa Act, and others. As we enter a new Congress with new legislative goals, and with immigration at the top of the agendas for members new and experienced, we need immigration reform for all, but especially for the entrepreneurs like myself that are building the startup businesses which are leading the rebound in U.S. economic growth. If we can make some very straightforward changes both in current frameworks and by instituting new ones through legislation, I am confident that we will continue to see expansive growth led by entrepreneurs in the American economy. You can add your voice at Engine by becoming a member.

Luis Arbulu is a Managing Director at Hattery, a venture capital firm in San Francisco, and an advisor for Engine Advocacy.

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