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In a Global Race for Tech Talent, Student ACCESS Bill Is a Head Start

"I owe everything to this country, and I want other immigrants to have the same opportunities I was granted."

Today, we are competing in a global economy — a global race for talent — yet our immigration system is governed by outdated laws. In order to remain globally competitive, we must embrace meaningful immigration reform as our country’s greatest advantage. Not only are we missing out on incredible talent and a workforce ready to fully contribute to our economy, we are losing $37 million in tax revenue every day without immigration reform.

America is a nation of immigrants, it always has been, and it’s an incredible source of our strength and character. The entrepreneurial nature of immigrants has brought the best and brightest to this country to build a better life for themselves, their families, our communities and this nation for centuries.

In 1991, my family and I immigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine, seeking asylum from the Soviet Union. It was in Illinois where newfound resources such as computer labs and public education became available to me. It is hard to imagine that I would have been able to go on and found and invest in companies such as PayPal, Yelp and Affirm — which combined are employing thousands of other Americans — had I not had the fortune to attend the University of Illinois.

As I reflect on how critical my education was to my fulfilling my own American dream, I recognize that we need to do more to invest in the next generation of doers and dreamers. Though I was fortunate to graduate college and go on to build a successful career, many talented immigrants have not been granted the same opportunity, due to our broken immigration system. It has been a quarter-century since we have seen a major update to our immigration system, and without reform, we continue to stifle our country’s continued global economic success.

We have an opportunity to make sure talented immigrants are not held back from achieving their dreams and growing our economy. Currently, undocumented students in Illinois are not eligible to receive state-based financial aid. While they are able to access the privately funded Illinois Dream Fund, only 26 students out of the 1,720 applied in 2014 were awarded a scholarship — less than 2 percent of applicants — due to insufficient funds. Dreams are left on hold while students take on more hours of work to pay for their education, which they often find harder to complete when working multiple jobs.

My alma mater is leading the effort to improve the high school graduation and college enrollment rates for undocumented students in Illinois by supporting the Illinois Student ACCESS Bill. The bill would allow undocumented students enrolled at four-year public universities an equal opportunity to compete for state-based aid. This is not a special favor, and does not disadvantage others — it simply doesn’t cost taxpayers any money — to ensure that we have a smart, prepared workforce. We have already invested in these students before they get to college — why block their aspirations to graduate college and fully contribute to Illinois’ economy?

Three in four Americans support fixing our broken immigration system and recognize the positive economic benefits that immigration reform will create for the American economy and American families. As we continue to fight for comprehensive immigration reform, the IL Student ACCESS Bill is an opportunity to help students realize their dreams and keep our country a global economic leader.

I owe everything to this country, and I want other immigrants to have the same opportunities I was granted so that they can build their American dreams here. Please join me in supporting the Illinois Student ACCESS Bill, and calling on representatives to support this bill when it is introduced in January 2016.

Max Levchin is the founder and CEO of Affirm, a financial services technology company, and chairman of Glow, a women’s reproductive health company. Both companies were created and launched from his San Francisco-based innovation and investment lab, HVF (Hard, Valuable, Fun). Levchin was one of the co-founders of PayPal, where he served as the CTO until its acquisition by eBay in 2002. In 2002, he was named to the Technology Review TR100 as one of the Top 100 innovators in the world under the age of 35, as well as Innovator of the Year. In 2004, he helped start Yelp, the ratings and review service, where he was chairman of the board from 2004 until 2015. He also serves on the boards of Yahoo, Evernote and the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and is an active investor in early-stage startups. Reach him @mlevchin.

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