Immigration datapoint of the day, entrepreneurship edition

By Felix Salmon
December 20, 2011
this idea from the National Foundation for American Policy, a pro-immigration think-tank.

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I love this idea from the National Foundation for American Policy, a pro-immigration think-tank. Take the WSJ’s list of the top 50 venture-backed companies, complete with the names of all the founders — and then calculate how many of those founders are first-generation immigrants. The results?

46 percent, or 23 out of 50, of the country’s top venture-funded companies had at least one immigrant founder… Through the companies they started the immigrant founders and co-founders have created an average of about 150 jobs in the United States…

37 of the top 50 companies, or 74 percent, had at least one immigrant helping the company grow and innovate by filling a key management or product development position.

As Alex Tabarrok says, letting more high-skilled immigrants into the country is the “no-brainer issue of the year”. Because most of the immigrants on this list are despite rather than because of US immigration policy. For instance:

Zoosk co-founders Alex Mehr and Shayan Zaden met in Iran as students back in the 1990s…

Getting a visa to the United States was not easy. Since America does not maintain an embassy in Iran, Alex and Shayan needed to go to Turkey. With no air travel at the time between Iran and Turkey the two young men had to cross into Turkey on foot…

Along with two other friends, they put together a prototype for a new business software project.. “Up until this point we had ignored the immigration aspects,” said Alex. The “immigration aspects” soon became clear to them: an international student possesses no right to stay in the United States and work…

The attorney advised them: “I think you guys should stop doing this company and get a job.” Alex and his friends were devastated by the news. “It was one of the worst days of my life,” said Alex. “We almost cried.”

The four young men dissolved the company and went their separate ways.

Eventually, Alex managed to win the green-card lottery, “gaining permanent residence through luck where starting a business had failed (due to U.S. law)”. This can’t possibly be good public policy. But the law doesn’t even pretend to make much sense:

How many visas are allocated to people of extraordinary ability from China, a country of over 1 billion people? Exactly 2,803. The same number as are allocated to Greenland.

The most startling fact in the latest paper is that the number of entrepreneurs from China — which is one of the most entrepreneurial countries in the world — is exactly zero. There are quite a few Iranians, and lots of Indians and Israelis — but no one from China or even, for that matter, from Japan or Korea or Taiwan. (There’s movement the other way, however.)

So let’s make America much more welcoming again, especially to the kind of people who will build the country of the future. In this nation of immigrants, I’m always astonished at how immigration-unfriendly the U.S. has become.

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