“It’s a stupid idea,” said Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports tighter immigration controls. “What is an entrepreneur? Businesses come and go.”
That kind of talk is heresy in Silicon Valley, where business leaders have begged the government for more-welcoming immigration laws. The biggest obstacle to growth in America’s tech industry, they say, is a desperate shortage of highly skilled workers in the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“No matter how many visas they gave out, those people would all get jobs and we would still need more,” said Margit Wennmachers, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz, a major venture-capital firm in Silicon Valley. “It’s not like we need 10,000. I think we could do with a million and still be hungry.”
According to a study by the Brookings Institution, about half of all PhDs working in science and technology are foreign-born. And about 40 percent of all MIT graduate students are from other countries.
Leon Sandler, executive director of MIT’s Deshpande Center for Technical Innovation, said it costs about $250,000 to educate a single PhD student and the U.S. government pays for at least 80 percent of MIT’s graduate research.
“Essentially we are funding their research, spending a quarter-million dollars in taxpayer money; then we make it hard for these people to stay here,” said Sandler, whose group helps start-ups and provided nearly $150,000 to support Bajpayee and Narayan. “If you want more innovation in this country, fix the visa situation.”
A global bidding war
Countries from Canada to Germany to Australia to Singapore are enthusiastically courting foreign entrepreneurs with relatively easy visas. Some offer cash.
China has given bonuses of up to $150,000 to thousands of highly skilled expatriates who have come home to work or start businesses. Chile is luring top talent with $40,000 in capital, free office space and a quick visa through its “Start-up Chile” program.
Officials said the program has had more than 5,600 applicants since it started in 2010; it has accepted more than 1,000 entrepreneurs from 51 countries. The program has attracted dozens of foreign-born graduates of U.S. universities, who have started 47 businesses there.
On April 1, Canada plans to launch a start-up visa program giving entrepreneurs immediate permanent residence. Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told reporters last month that the program was designed, in part, to poach foreigners from the United States.
“We see the bright, young, international tech developers in the U.S. who are stuck on temporary visas as an immediate market, if you will, for this program,” Kenney said at a Jan. 25 news conference in Toronto.