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Immigrant Entrepreneurs and Innovators

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It’s no secret that some of the world’s most innovative and successful high-tech companies (think Google, Apple, and Microsoft) were founded and established in the United States. Nothing speaks more to the thought of the American Dream than having an idea, developing it, and building it into a sustainable—and highly profitable—business. Some may feel that the idea of the American Dream is a native concept, understood only by Americans, but the truth is that people the world over not only want the idealized American Dream, but they want to experience it in the United States.

Thanks to programs like STEM OPT and H-1B, foreign students and workers are given the ability to work for many of the giants of American high-tech by either completing their training in valuable and competitive positions via STEM OPT or by occupying vital roles in positions companies are unable to fill through the native population.

While STEM OPT and H-1B are vital to the success of current high-tech companies, the United States also benefits from the entrepreneurship of their foreign-born population. “Immigrants’ entrepreneurship rates are especially high in the engineering and technology sector. About a quarter of engineering and technology companies founded between 2006 and 2012 had at least one founder who was born abroad,” according to a 2012 Kauffman Foundation study. “In Silicon Valley, the share was 43.9 percent.”

A follow-up paper to the Kauffman Foundation study further tells us than many of these foreign-born entrepreneurs initially came to the U.S. to study, not start a business, and that many of these people are highly educated—74% hold either a graduate or postgraduate degree. These numbers make a strong case for looking at visas like H-1B and programs such as STEM OPT as more than helping to fill the gaps in the U.S. workforce, but rather incubators for the next great American companies.

Without immigrant innovators, the growth of U.S. business could potentially stagnate. From 1996 to 2011, the business startup rate of immigrants increased by more than 50 percent, while the native-born startup rate declined by 10 percent, to a 30-year low. Not only are immigrants starting businesses, they are starting rapidly growing businesses—more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants (90 companies) or by their children (an additional 114 companies), according to a report by the Partnership for a New American Economy.

As places in the U.S. such as Silicon Valley gain a reputation as hotbeds for technology and innovation, they also gain a reputation for attracting top foreign-born talent. In 2000, 53 percent of the [Silicon] Valley's science and engineering workforce was foreign-born, and immigrant founders started 52 percent of new Silicon Valley companies between 1995 and 2005. Sadly, that number has been shrinking in recent years, as the percentage of immigrant-founded companies in Silicon Valley has dropped 8.5% since 2005.

As a nation, we need to be concerned about our ability to continue to attract world-class talent. The ability of the United States to attract the best minds in the world has fueled innovation, driven technology, and bolstered the country's economy. As the world gets smaller and more global, the competition for innovators and entrepreneurs is heating up and the U.S. must be prepared to make it easy for foreign-born entrepreneurs to operate here. Too often, recent immigrant entrepreneurs encounter red tape when trying to start a business in the U.S. while other countries roll out the red carpet to welcome them.

GoffWilson has been helping immigrants find their version of the American Dream since 1982. Whether it’s an F-1 visa to study, a H-1B visa to work, or an EB-5 or EB-2 to start your own business, GoffWilson can help guide you through the complexities of the American immigration process. We admire the contributions the immigrant population has made to our country and look forward to helping the next generation of immigrant innovators and business owners begin living their dreams. Contact us here to get started today.
Filed under:EB-5, H-1B Visa, Immigration Law, Immigration Reform