June 28, 2013

Reid Hoffman is co-founder and chairman of LinkedIn, a partner at the venture capital firm Greylock and co-founder of FWD.us, an advocacy group created by technology leaders that promotes policies to keep the United States and its citizens competitive in a global economy.

Immigration is pure entrepreneurship. You leave behind everything familiar to start somewhere new. To succeed, you need to develop alliances. You must acquire skills. You will have to improvise on occasion. It’s a bold proposition.

Immigration is also fundamental to the U.S. national identity — as the Senate just acknowledged with passage of the most significant reform bill in decades. Our nation’s founders, determined to live in new ways, left behind old philosophies, old laws and old customs. The United States was conceived as a crucible for new beginnings.

Immigration has benefited the United States immensely. Because of our reputation as the country most receptive to ambitious upstarts willing to risk everything for a better life, we have attracted the world’s hardest-working, most innovative dreamers.

A hundred years ago, for example, two Hungarian immigrants, Eugene Farkas and Joseph Galamb, helped design the Ford Motor Co.’s paradigm-shifting automobile, the Model T. In our own era, German immigrant Sebastian Thrun has helped steer transportation into the 21st century with his work on Google’s self-driving-car project.

Identities don’t just happen. They are consciously crafted. Indeed, if our forefathers had wanted to be known as the Land of the Secure and Protectionist, they would have erected a giant sculpture of a barrier in New York Harbor. Instead, they went with the Roman goddess of freedom who, with her 30-foot torch, has served as an icon of American enlightenment for more than 100 years.

The Statue of Liberty is one of this country’s best-known symbols precisely because it embodies values and ideals fundamental to our national identity: America, land of the fresh start. America, teeming with opportunities, open to all. America, a land of innovation and progress, where we don’t just tolerate new philosophies, new technologies, new ventures and new citizens, but we welcome them.

The United States welcomes immigrants, and all of its citizens benefit from their arrival.

Multiple studies have confirmed that immigrants are more likely to start businesses than native-born Americans. In fact, according to the Partnership for a New American Economy, as of 2011, 42 percent of U.S.-based companies on the Fortune 500 list, accounting for a total of more than 10 million jobs worldwide, were started by U.S. immigrants or their children. Between 1990 and 2005, 25 percent of our highest-growth companies were founded by foreign-born entrepreneurs. That growth means more jobs and a more robust economy for all of us.

And that’s not a new phenomenon. Historically, the U.S. identity as a nation of immigrants has been one of our best competitive advantages. Now that the Senate has acted on reform, the country has an opportunity to build on this strength.

That’s why so many in Silicon Valley, including our crew of founders at FWD.us, urge the House of Representatives to affirm this forward-thinking vision for our country. The immigration bill reflects an aspect of American identity that we instinctively recognize as true and essential. Sure, our technology industry needs more high-skilled technical talent, but at FWD.us, our support of immigration reform is rooted in something deeper. As history’s most successful start-up, the United States is a land of new beginnings, risk-taking and commitment to progress for all immigrants. Only comprehensive reform makes good on the promise inherent in our national identity.

The legislation before Congress features important provisions for ensuring the security of our borders. It establishes a process by which the 11 million unauthorized immigrants already here can pursue citizenship over time and thus participate more productively in American life. It will increase our capacity to utilize new workers with a wide range of skills. And these workers will infuse the U.S. economy with energy and innovation, just as immigrants determined to put dreams into action have always done here.

The Statue of Liberty emphatically embodies our national identity of openness and entrepreneurial boldness. Our immigration laws and policies should do the same — promoting access and, through that access, producing opportunity, justice and prosperity for all.