Rep. Gutierrez, Let’s Try The Silicon Valley Way – Lean Immigration Reform

Editor’s note: Vivek Wadhwa is Vice President of Innovation and Research at Singularity University, Fellow at Stanford Law School, and Director of Research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke University. Follow him on Twitter @wadhwa.

Thank you for responding to my TechCrunch post in which I asked you to release your hold on Silicon Valley. I agree with everything you wrote and strongly support the cause. And I’ll commit up front to what you asked for: my help in fighting for a top-to-bottom overhaul of our immigration system.

But, frankly, I was really disappointed with your response. Because, as is the norm in Washington, D.C., you made all your points, but you didn’t give an inch. You even went back on concessions you had made earlier by insisting on all or nothing. In the Judiciary Committee hearing, you said that last year you had, “in good faith and to show that you wanted to work with everybody,” agreed to support visas for 50,000 foreign students. True, the Republicans pulled a fast one by making this conditional on the elimination of the diversity visa, so it wasn’t your fault that this bill did not pass.

Why don’t we at least put this back on the table along with a Startup Visa? This is just a tiny part of the comprehensive immigration reform package that the President says he is working on. There will still be a dire need for the whole package. But your sponsorship of this bill in the House will show Silicon Valley that you care about its needs and that you want to work with us.

Two Republican Senators, Jerry Moran and Roy Blunt, and two Democrats, Mark Warner and Chris Coons, just introduced the Startup Act 3.0 — an updated version of a jobs and high-skilled-immigration plan to jumpstart the economy through the creation and growth of new businesses. This provides visas for the very talented engineering and science students who are leaving the country out of frustration, and it creates a visa allowing entrepreneurs to start companies with a minimum investment of $100,000. It also provides a much-needed tax break for investors who take long-term risks on companies that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs start.

If history is any indicator, this legislation will never be brought to a vote, because Democratic Party leaders fear alienating the Hispanic community. So, as versions 1 and 2 of the Startup Act did, version 3 will die a silent death.

Thanks to our engineers and scientists, America is in the midst of its next great rebound.

You say that you don’t have the power to change this, but you are understating your influence. You are the most senior Hispanic leader in Congress. You have great influence over the Hispanic caucus. Several Congressional staffers told me that Nancy Pelosi prevented any skilled-immigrant legislation from being brought to a vote because she feared offending you.

In Silicon Valley, we think big. Some of us aim to change the world and save mankind. As I said in my testimony, thanks to our engineers and scientists, America is in the midst of its next great rebound.  We are setting the wheels in motion to solve humanity’s grand challenges in areas such as health, energy, food, education, water, and security. This will be the most innovative decade in human history — when we begin to go from worrying about shortages to worrying about how to share the abundance that we create.

But the mindless political battles over immigration are slowing this rebound, because immigrants are a major driving force behind this country’s innovation. They have founded a majority of Silicon Valley’s startups and perform much of the cutting-edge research in America’s research labs.

After a lot of trial and error, Silicon Valley learned that, in order to achieve big goals, you need to take small steps. You have to make compromises, and you have to give and take. In the startup community, they call this the lean startup, because you start by fighting battles that you can win, fortifying your victories, and then becoming more and more ambitious. That is what I am suggesting for immigration reform. That we keep fighting the big battles, but demonstrate what is possible—with lean immigration reform.

A Startup Visa will, within a short period of time, give us a big victory by creating thousands of startups—perhaps tens of thousands. More than 500,000 engineers, scientists, doctors and researchers are currently stuck in immigration limbo. Many of them want to become entrepreneurs. They will readily invest $100,000 from their savings in order to start companies or they will raise this money from investors who believe in their vision. These companies will eventually employ hundreds of thousands of American workers, and this will give the economy a quick boost and increase public acceptance of comprehensive immigration reform.

Think about the alternative: that the economy stalls and shutters. Do you think that Americans will welcome more immigrants or tolerate the legalization of 10 million already here, if that occurs? In every country, when the economy is weak, natives blame foreigners for their woes; they become more protectionist. It is only when the pie is getting bigger that people welcome foreigners. That is why it is urgent to take measures to heal the economy. That’s why we need the Startup Visa. For no cost to taxpayers, we get billions of dollars in investment.