Last month, President Obama praised the Senate for passing commonsense immigration reform through a bipartisan bill that is the best opportunity we’ve had in years to fix the Nation's broken immigration system. If it were signed into law, this bill would benefit the U.S. economy, foster innovation, and encourage more job creation, as summarized in a recent White House report and animated video.
These benefits stem in part from the significant contributions of immigrant entrepreneurs, who have started one of every four small businesses and high-tech startups across America. More than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies—from GE and Ford to Google and Yahoo!—were founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants.
Prior to the bipartisan bill passing in the Senate in a 68-32 vote, the President said:
So immigration isn’t just part of our national character…it is a driving force in our economy that creates jobs and prosperity for all of our citizens… Right now, our immigration system invites the best and the brightest from all over the world to come and study at our top universities, and then once they finish -- once they’ve gotten the training they need to build a new invention or create a new business -- our system too often tells them to go back home so that other countries can reap the benefits, the new jobs, the new businesses, the new industries. That’s not smart. But that’s the broken system we have today.
The bill is now before the House and, if passed, would enact the President’s key priorities for attracting and retaining the best and brightest from around the world, including by:
- Removing visa caps for immigrants with a PhD or Master’s degree in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM). This would effectively “staple” a green card to the diplomas of advanced STEM graduates from U.S. universities.
- Creating a new “startup visa” for immigrant entrepreneurs. This would allow entrepreneurs who meet a threshold level of financing from U.S. investors or revenue from U.S. customers to start businesses in the United States, and remain permanently if their companies grow further and create jobs for American workers.
- Eliminating the backlogs for employment-based visas. This bill would create a temporary system to clear out existing backlogs, and would eliminate visa caps based on country of origin. Long-term, it would permanently expand the availability of green cards for high-skill workers by exempting immediate relatives and certain other immigrants from the annual cap.
In line with the President’s framework for a 21st century immigration system, the bill would also modernize the legal immigration system, strengthen border security, crack down on employers that hire and exploit undocumented workers, and create a pathway to earned citizenship for undocumented immigrants, while also requiring these individuals to pass background checks, pay taxes and a penalty, learn English, and move to the end of the line of prospective immigrants.
These steps are essential for talented immigrants like Tolu Olubunmi, who last month introduced the President before his remarks on immigration reform. Originally from Nigeria, Tolu graduated at the top of her class from a prestigious American university with a chemistry and engineering degree. Like so many other DREAMers, Tolu came to the United States with her parents as a child and feels American in every way—but she can’t achieve her full potential as an engineer and innovator until Congress provides a fair pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers.
Tolu’s story is one of many. And on May 29, eleven other inspirational immigrant innovators were recognized as Champions of Change here at the White House. Some came here as children, while others came to study at our world-class universities. And all have helped found successful companies that today are creating jobs, strengthening communities, and in some cases, even saving lives.
Watch a video of the exciting event here, and read their biographies and first-person stories here:
- Shradha Agarwal, Co-Founder, ContextMedia: Improving Lives in the Land of Opportunity
- Riddhiman Das, Founder, Galleon Labs: Transforming the World Through Software
- Ashifi Gogo, CEO, Sproxil: Empowering People Worldwide to Fight Counterfeit Drugs
- John Herrera, Co-Founder, Latino Community Credit Union: Building Wealth in Immigrant Communities
- Olga Koper, Research Scientist, Battelle Memorial Institute: Collaboration, Community, and a Childhood Dream Fulfilled
- Jonas Korlach, Chief Scientific Officer, Pacific BioSciences: From East Berlin to the Innovation Capital of the World
- Anna Mongayt, Co-Founder, Upstart: There Has Never Been a Better Time to Start a Company
- Victoria Ransom, Founder and CEO, Wildfire Interactive: A Nation of Entrepreneurial Journeys
- Zack Rinat, Founder and CEO, Model N: Who Dares, Wins
- Amar Sawhney, President and CEO, Ocular Therapeutix: A Passion for Life-Saving Innovation
- Siva Sivananthan, Distinguished Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago: Conquering Darkness and Harnessing the Sun
The President has emphasized time and again that the time is now to pass commonsense immigration reform, saying:
“[N]ow is the time to make your voice heard. You need to call and email and tweet your senators and tell them, don’t kick this problem down the road. Come together. Work together. Do your job not only to fix a broken immigration system once and for all, but to leave something better for all the generations to come, to make sure we continue to be a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. Do the right thing.”
Doug Rand is Assistant Director for Entrepreneurship at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy