I just got back from San Francisco’s #iMarch event to promote passage of the immigration reform bill, a bill I am fully supportive of including its provisions for high-skilled and entrepreneur visas.
But the arguments I heard made in favor of the bill are extremely problematic, whether it passes or not.
What I did hear was an assumption that the tech industry is the next big job creator in the US and without these immigrant entrepreneurs our future economy is in imminent danger. I’m willing to be convinced that these future broad-based, middle class jobs are coming but the current research I’ve seen shows that wealth creation from the tech industry is extremely unequally distributed, and current venture capital is going overwhelmingly to a small, homogeneous elite.
The more problematic theme that came up a couple times was that we needed to figure out a way to explain why these issues were important to people in the “the midwest.” As if the problem with convincing midwesterners it was a good idea for more entrepreneurs to settle in Silicon Valley or New York was just a matter of making them understand. Actually, the reason “the midwest” isn’t taking up the tech industry’s cause is that people in “the midwest” haven’t seen Google or Facebook or Microsoft—or any other tech company for that matter—create many, if any, jobs for them. They will, however, see Ford create 2,350 jobs in my home state, Michigan, alone this year. That’s about half as many people as Facebook employs worldwide.
But of course, the manufacturing economy is living on borrowed time. The knowledge economy is our future. So we need to create innovative new companies, and a 21st century immigration policy is key to that innovation. That’s likely true. But one argument, which I actually heard from a panelist tonight, that is not likely to win support with any midwesterners, is that bringing in immigrants to start companies is actually a better return on investment than having to create that entrepreneur at home. In other words, why invest in education and infrastructure when you can just lure some other country’s educated go-getter to start a company here!!!! I’d like to give that panelist the benefit of the doubt that he doesn’t actually believe what he implied but they didn’t allow any Q&A at the end so I couldn’t clarify.
Look, we need this bill to pass and it’s great that the tech community is fully on board supporting comprehensive reform. But this head-scratching about why we can’t relay our message to the middle of the country is really frustrating. We seriously need to get out more.