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Immigration must be considered an opportunity for America, not a problem

America itself is a startup. And since our founding, we have been the most innovative and entrepreneurial nation, in part because we’ve been an immigrant-friendly nation.

Kunal Bahl, the co-founder and CEO of Snapdeal, was forced to relocate when he couldn’t get a visa to stay in the U.S. By 2015, Snapdeal was worth $5 billion and employed more than 5,000 people — in India.
Money Sharma / AFP / Getty

I have devoted much of my life to starting, building and backing companies. And I have come to believe that there are only two kinds of companies that exist in this world: Ones that are growing, and ones that are declining. There is no in-between.

Countries — and regions within countries — work the same way. They are either open and growing — absorbing new ideas, people and ways of doing things — or they are closed and falling behind, trying to defend the status quo, exclude outsiders and shut out new thinking. This is why I have long believed immigration policy is not just a problem America needs to solve, but it is also an opportunity for us to seize.

On my Rise of the Rest startup bus tours, I have the opportunity to speak to thousands of entrepreneurs across the United States. I like to remind them that America itself is a startup, one that was founded some 250 years ago. And since our founding we have been the most innovative and entrepreneurial nation, in part because we’ve been an immigrant-friendly nation. But in recent years, we’ve made it harder to come here and stay here, and as a result we’ve started to lose talent to other countries.

Countries are either open and growing — absorbing new ideas, people and ways of doing things — or they are closed and falling behind, trying to defend the status quo, exclude outsiders and shut out new thinking.

This is a path to economic decline and entrepreneurial decay. According to a Kauffman Foundation study, one-fourth of U.S.-based startups were launched by foreign-born founders; in Silicon Valley, that number is closer to 50 percent. In 2005, these businesses accounted for $52 billion in revenue. Elon Musk, founder of Tesla, emigrated to the U.S. from South Africa; Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, fled the Soviet Union; Steve Jobs, the visionary leader of Apple, was the son of a Syrian immigrant. Where would our country be without these immigrants and children of immigrants (among so many others)? Their journeys are the American story. A story that can only carry on if we continue to attract the best and train the best.

Many in the tech industry are focused on reforming the H-1B visa program, which provides a temporary stay for foreign workers employed in specialized fields. Making it easier to obtain these visas (while also including reforms to prevent abuses) will help companies compete for talent, grow and, as a result, create jobs for Americans. This should be part of comprehensive immigration reform, but it is not enough.

Elon Musk, founder of Tesla, emigrated from South Africa; Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, fled the Soviet Union; Steve Jobs, the visionary leader of Apple, was the son of a Syrian immigrant.

As I argue in my book, "The Third Wave," we also need to create a Startup Visa program, one that opens the door for immigrant entrepreneurs with a proven idea to launch their startups in the U.S. We should give talented young people educated in U.S. colleges and universities a green card to stay and help power our economic growth rather than turning them away.

Snapdeal, for example, was co-founded by a Wharton graduate, Kunal Bahl. Bahl was forced to relocate when he couldn’t get a visa to stay in the U.S. By 2015, Snapdeal was worth $5 billion and employed more than 5,000 people — in India. Those jobs and that economic growth could have stayed in the U.S. if we had a more flexible immigration system. It makes no sense for us to invite students to come to the U.S., train them to create economic value and then kick them out.

Although my focus (and expertise) tends to be on tech/innovation matters, I know that we need an approach to immigration reform that is broader than just our industry. Finding some path to citizenship for immigrants who are here now, as part of comprehensive immigration reform, is critically important, as well. I realize that we’re in the midst of a noisy political season and that immigration can be an emotionally charged issue for some, but I hope that, come January, we will engage in a constructive, collaborative and comprehensive fashion to address all facets of immigration, once and for all.

Ronald Reagan painted a picture of America as a shining city on a hill — a picture that still inspires me and countless others. That city, he said, was one where "the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here." To maintain our position as a global leader in innovation, we must continue to build a system that rewards those wills and hearts with opportunity.


This op-ed is part of the Partnership for a New American Economy (NAE) #ReasonForReform campaign, providing opportunities for Americans to support immigration reform.

Steve Case is chairman and CEO of Revolution, a Washington, D.C.-based venture capital firm, co-founder of AOL, a member of the President’s Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship and chairman of the Case Foundation. Reach him @SteveCase.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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