I read the announcement today that Canada has just launched a Start-Up Visa Program. By doing so, they are saying to the world “welcome immigrant entrepreneurs – please come start your business in Canada.” It’s brilliant, well executed, and modeled after the Startup Visa movement that a number of us have been trying to get started in the US since 2009.
I continue to be really discouraged by the US government activity around the Startup Visa movement, and more specifically around immigration reform as it applies to entrepreneurs. After trying for the past three years to get something passed, nothing has happened beyond administrative changes to the existing laws. While in some cases this has improved the interpretation of the rules, we are still totally missing the boat here in the US. CBP and USCIS continue to implement the rules inconsistently, resulting in regular outrageous situations including tossing entrepreneurs with existing valid visas in jail when they enter the US and banning other entrepreneurs from coming into the country as a result of misinterpretation by CBP of how things should work. I hear at least one horrifying story a week, try to help when I can, but mostly am just embarrassed and ashamed of our US policies around this.
While Canada is plowing forward making it easy for immigrant entrepreneurs to move to Canada and start companies, the US efforts are now entirely focused on “comprehensive immigration reform.” The first bills for this are supposed to start appearing in a few months and I expect we’ll see similar dynamics that we saw around Obamacare. Endless political machinations, an ever expanding set of bills that cover all kinds of things in addition to immigration reform, and a complex set of tradeoffs that have unintended consequences that no one can understand.
On top of this, I’ve heard from a number of political insider friends that “the vote math doesn’t work.” I’ve learned that this means it is an incredible uphill battle to get anything passed, and the compromise that is going to happen to get certain people in Congress to support the bills means that the “tradeoffs and compromises” (which the more cynical among us – including me – means “the political bribes they need to agree to vote a certain way”)are going to be extensive.
In the mean time, Canada is shouting from the rooftops about the benefits of the Start-Up Visa program.
Since I believe entrepreneurs should be able to start their companies anywhere in the world they’d like, I applaud the Canadian government for taking action here. And I encourage any immigrant entrepreneur considering moving to the US to also consider moving to Canada given this new program.
Dear Mr. Friends In Washington: Pay attention. We continue to be less competitive because of our intransigence around immigration, especially with regard to being entrepreneurs. Canada is showing real leadership. Why not just emulate them?
I’m so sick of how – as a country – our authorities treat people as though they are criminals. A month ago a successful Boston entrepreneur who has been incredibly engaged in the Boston startup community was thrown in jail for three days after a CPB agent decided she didn’t have a valid visa (she did have a valid visa, and she was from that extremely dangerous country of Canada.)
A few days ago, Laurie Voss, a co-founder of a company we are investors in was detained for three hours at the board because he stated his job was “software developer” instead of “web developer”. He had recently gotten his green card and went on to describe the harrowing experience he endured, along with the unceremonious release a few hours later.
While I’m happy that USCIS continues to try to education its workforce as well as entrepreneurs via programs like A New Front Door for Immigrant Entrepreneurs, the words at the top and the actions in the field are completely disconnected. I hear a story about it almost daily and I’m now having someone I’m directly connected to or involved with impacted at least a month. It seems to be getting worse, not better, which just sucks.
If you care about this issue, I once again refer you to to Vivek Wadhwa’s excellent book called The Immigrant Exodus: Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent. Tom Friedman has also written a number of really clear OpEds on this topic in the past year or so. With all the talk about innovation, entrepreneurship, and the need for job creators in the US, our immigration policies are directly at odds with the concepts our politicians are telling us are critical for our economy to grow.
The conversation in Washington DC has shifted back to “Comprehensive Immigration Reform.” I’ve now had several people I know in the White House tell me this is the new immigration priority as in “let’s fix the whole problem with comprehensive immigration reform” over the next four years. In the last week, I’ve heard from several that “there’s no way we are going to be able to get anything done on immigration reform anytime soon because of all the fiscal crisis issues and partisanship in Congress.”
Awesome. We continue to be functioning in a delusional context. The Democrats think they have magic political power because of the results of the election and the Republicans are focused more than ever on not letting the Democrats “win.” And President George W. Bush, who I disagree with on so many things, recently asserted that immigration reform is needed to boost the economy and specifically said, “”Not only do immigrants help build our economy, they help invigorate our soul.”
While the entire situation is ridiculous, I’m continually upset by the way entrepreneurs like Laurie Voss are treated by CBP and USCIS. I’ve asked for apologies before and I’ll ask for them again. CBP / USCIS, or someone in the White House – please call Laurie and apologize to him. Then figure out the real root cause of the behavioral problem. And start respecting immigrants, not treating every one like a bad guy until you confirm they aren’t.
On that same day the White House announced A New Front Door for Immigrant Entrepreneurs President Obama said that he was not supportive of the STEM Jobs Act of 2012. Infuriating.
I’ve been working on making it easy for foreign entrepreneurs to get a visa to start a company in the US since September 2009 when I wrote the post The Founders Visa Movement. This morphed into the Startup Visa Movement and I’ve written extensively about it over the past three years on my blog in the Startup Visa category. While some progress has been made through administrative changes at the USCIS and better education of USCIS and CBP about what an entrepreneur is, we are still falling extraordinarily short of where we could – and should be.
With every success (I got an email from an entrepreneur yesterday who I helped who had just gotten a green card) there is a nightmare, such as the well-known and well-loved Boston entrepreneur who was actually stopped at the border at Logan Airport a few weeks ago, told by CBP that she was lying about her visa, and tossed in jail for several days. A mad scramble among some of the Boston startup community leaders, led by Katie Rae at TechStars, resulted in this entrepreneur “only” being jailed for a few days. Jailed! President Obama should call her personally and apologize and give her a green card on the spot.
Vivek Wadhwa wrote a great summary of the recent decision of President Obama not to support the STEM Jobs Act of 2012 in his Forbes article Why Immigration Reform is Destined to be Another Obamacare. It’s more of the “all or nothing” strategy around immigration I’ve been hearing from the White House since 2009. Obama is a strong proponent of immigration reform, but he wants comprehensive immigration reform, rather than incrementally improving things. There are so many easy fixes that are non-partisan, such as the STEM Jobs Act, and it’s crazy that there isn’t a leadership focus on fixing the straightforward ones now, especially those that impact job creation, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
I’m extremely bummed out by President Obama’s position on this. Several months ago I had a conversation with one of my friends in the White House who implored me to support the STEM Jobs Act and was enthusiastic about the idea of little wins on this front. Clearly his perspective diverged from the broader White House strategy, which I fear will result in nothing done on this front.
In addition to Vivek Wadhwa’s recent article, he’s written an excellent book called The Immigrant Exodus: Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent. I’ll be writing a longer post about it shortly but if this is a topic that you care about his book is a critical one to read.
For all the foreign entrepreneurs who can’t get appropriate visas to start their companies in the US, and to all of the amazing foreign entrepreneurs who put up with our idiocy and nonsense as they continue to struggle through the US immigration process, deal with visa hell, and get accused of lying by CBP, I humbly apologize to you. It’s embarrassing, and stupid, that as a country, especially one built on the the premise of “liberty and justice for all”, can’t get our act together on this front.
I’m extremely excited that Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), the senior senator for Colorado, has signed on as a co-sponsor of The Startup Visa Act of 2010 that was originally proposed by Senators Kerry (D-MA) and Lugar (R-IN). Senator Udall joins his Colorado colleague in the House, Jared Polis (D-CO), who has proposed Startup Visa legislation as part of his EB-5 reform bill.
In addition, our friends at SVB Financial (the parent of Silicon Valley Bank) have also formally endorsed the Startup Visa. My partner Jason Mendelson wrote a post about a roundtable that Silicon Valley Bank hosted for members of “the new Democrat Coalition” which included Jared Polis. Shortly after this meeting, SVB formally endorsed the Startup Visa.
I’m really proud that two of Colorado’s members of Congress are leading the charge on the Startup Visa. I have deep respect for both Mark and Jared, their understanding of the importance of entrepreneurship, and their vision for innovation in our country. I’m also grateful that SVB – which has been an integral part of the entrepreneurial activity throughout the US – for their support as well.
We are working on a few additional major announcements and endorsements in the next sixty days. I’ve received a number of requests for ways to help. At this point, if you are part of an organization that you think would be supportive of the Startup Visa, please drop me an email and let’s talk about ways to get a formal endorsement.
On Thursday, March 18th (during CU Entrepreneurship Week) there is going to be a great Silicon Flatirons Conference on “The Role of Place”. Brad Bernthal, who is chairing the conference, leads with a great quote from Harvard Professor and Monitor Group co-founder Michael Porter.
"Paradoxically, the enduring competitive advantages in a global economy lie increasingly in local things – knowledge, relationships, and motivation – that distant rivals cannot match."
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this personally given all my work around the Boulder entrepreneurial community, TechStars, Foundry Group’s investments in different parts of the US, and the Startup Visa initiative.
I’ll be on the first panel titled Entrepreneurial Immigration Policy with Lance Nagel (partner in Morgan, Lewis & Bockius’ Labor and Employment Practice) and Vivek Wadhwa (Senior Research Associate, Labor & Worklife Program at Harvard Law School and an Adjunct Professor at the Duke University Pratt School of Engineering). I expect we’ll get a good chance to cover plenty of ground, including several of the incredible immigrant entrepreneur loci and projects like the Startup Visa initiative.
The second panel is Place and Iteration: Lessons From Storage and includes several folks who have been involved in the Boulder “storage ecosystem” over the past 30 years, including Jesse Aweida (founder of StorageTek) and Kyle Lefkoff (general partner of Boulder Ventures, who has invested in several Boulder storage companies over the years including McData and LeftHand Networks). Jim Linfield (partner at Cooley Godward, the founder of Cooley’s Colorado office, and counsel for a number of Colorado storage companies) will be anchoring the panel.
The third panel is Innovation and The Architecture of Geography and will explore broader lessons and insight concerning the role of place, regional architecture, and innovation.
Once again, my friends at Silicon Flatiron have put together a rich conference on a very important and timely topic. It’s taking place at the Wittemyer Courtroom, Wolf Law Building, University of Colorado on Thursday, March 18, 2010 from 2:30PM to 6:30PM. Register now and come join us.