Why Mark Zuckerberg cares about immigration reform


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other tech titans have formed a lobbying group to aid the industry’s recruiting efforts. (Justin Sullivan/GETTY IMAGES)
April 11, 2013

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg launched a new organization, called Fwd.us, Thursday to advocate for immigration reform in the United States.

Zuckerberg unveiled the group in an op-ed in The Washington Post.

The group wants Congress to overhaul the country’s approach to immigration. Here’s a quick look at what the group is all about.

Who’s participating? Zuckerberg is the group’s leading famous face, but its list of supporters reads like a who’s who of the tech industry: Linked In co-founder Reid Hoffman, John Doerr of the venture capitalist firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Jim Breyer of Accel Partners and angel investor Ron Conway.

The contributors list is even flashier, including Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt and other CEOs of big-name firms, such as Netflix’s Reed Hastings, Zynga’s Mark Pincus, Path’s Dave Morin, Instagram’s Kevin Systrom, Tesla’s Elon Musk and Airbnb’s Brian Chesky.

The group also has the backing of Paul Graham, who founded the startup incubator Y-Combinator.

What does Fwd.us want? The group has laid out its priorities for immigration reform: Secure the U.S. border; modify the guest worker program to increase the number of visas for skilled workers; develop a “simple and effective” system to verify employment; create a clear path for immigrants to become U.S. citizens; and reform the legal immigration system.

Why do they care? Immigration reform is an issue near and dear to the tech industry, which has repeatedly complained that the current system restricts U.S. companies’ ability to recruit and retain high-quality engineering and programming talent.

Tech industry groups have thrown support behind congressional legislation that would boost the number of H-1B visas — visas given to highly skilled workers — issued each year and that would grant permanent residency status to students who earn graduate degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Outlining those priorities in his Post op-ed, Zuckerberg said that the United States should not “kick out” math and science graduates from American universities who are not U.S. citizens. He also questioned why the United States doesn’t allow foreign entrepreneurs to move here to start technology companies — an idea proposed in a bill from Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) called the “Startup Act 3.0,” which promotes the creation of an “entrepreneur’s visa.”

Why is this issue controversial? The tech industry makes a clear arguments for why they think the H-1B visa program is a good thing, but it has plenty of detractors.

Critics who refer to the H-1B as the “outsourcing visa” argue that American companies use the program to bring foreign-born workers to the United States for training and then send them back to countries such as India to do the same work at a lower cost.

Others have questioned whether the H-1B visa program is biased against women. In a congressional hearing last month, Karen Panetta of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers asked members of Congress to delay any reforms until the Department of Homeland Security responds to her request for a gender breakdown of the program. Panetta said she believes the majority of these visas go to men.

“Surely you would not want to have voted substantial increases in the H-1B program, only to discover that the data shows that not only is it mostly used by outsourcers whose business model is entirely about replacing American workers, but also that the H-1B visa program effectively pushes women out of the STEM fields,” Panetta said in her prepared testimony.

Her group has proposed that the government instead increase the number of green cards it awards to STEM graduates here, rather than rely on the temporary visa program.

(Washington Post Co. chairman and chief executive Donald E. Graham is a member of Facebook’s board of directors.)

Related stories:

Mark Zuckerberg: Immigration and the knowledge economy

Visas for high-skilled workers could double under bipartisan Senate plan

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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