Last night, I joined FWD.us supporter Paul Graham at Y Combinator – one of the premier startup incubators – for a roundtable discussion on the need for comprehensive immigration reform.
Over a hundred Y Combinator entrepreneurs, past and present, joined us to hear from a great lineup of panelists: Congressman Mike Honda, Brian Chesky of Airbnb, Patrick Collison of Stripe, Drew Houston of Dropbox, and Pete Koomen of Optimizely.
The panelists and members of the audience shared stories about how our broken immigration system has impacted their companies, and their lives. The stories were eye-opening, and anybody who cares about innovation or entrepreneurship should hear them.
From the beginning it was clear that comprehensive immigration reform is critical to the tech community. When Paul introduced the panel, he noted that the four tech panelists represent the four most successful Y Combinator companies by valuation. The need for immigration reform – rather than a product launch or an IPO – brought Y Combinator alumni together like never before.
Brian kicked off the discussion by talking about how immigration reform has been a headache from the first days of Airbnb. “I remember when we were three people in an apartment,” he explained, “and we were trying to get an H-1B” for a new hire. Brian had to spend precious hours filling out the forms himself. It was a reminder that startups don’t have HR departments to navigate immigration processes.
Patrick, the founder of Stripe and an immigrant himself, had an especially absurd story. He said that Stripe had to spend much of their venture funding on lawyers to help with immigration, and that “it is much easier to obtain venture financing than to become a permanent resident in the U.S.” He almost had to start the company in Canada. For him, immigration was “by far the single largest source of stress.”
Congressman Honda thanked the group for sharing stories, and said that our elected representatives need to hear more stories as the Senate prepares to vote on immigration reform. He provided one of the most interesting moments of the night when he asked the Y Combinator crowd how many were born outside the country; at least half raised their hands. He noted, too, that family reunification is one of the many reasons that comprehensive reform isn’t just right for the American economy to remain globally competitive, but also to ensure that our immigration laws reflect the best values of our communities and our country.
One of the highlights was a real, physical substantiation of the way our immigration system is broken. In addition to the Y Combinator alumni in the room, several more alumni attended through video chat. But this was not just any video chat. The alumni were using technology that enabled iPads to roam around the room on wheels, allowing them to mingle – through video chat – as if they were there.
These are entrepreneurs that started successful companies, lived in the U.S. while working with Y Combinator, but are literally trapped abroad. Our immigration system will not let them return to run their companies.
Brian summed it up when he said, “recruiting is the most important thing our company does. Immigration is recruiting for the country.” The stories make it clear: we need to help pass comprehensive immigration reform.
That’s where we step in. FWD.us is helping to mobilize the tech community, and now is a great time to act. Our first Day of Action is this Thursday June 27, and you should commit to call your senator to get involved. We’ll send you instructions on how to use our online call tool, and a reminder to call, on Thursday. And if you have your own immigration story, we’d love for you to submit it.