Bay Area entrepreneurs call for reforms to high-skilled immigration system

Posted by FWD.us on 04/04/2017

On Monday April 3rd, FWD.us and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce hosted a panel discussion with Silicon Valley business leaders and immigration policy experts to discuss the current state of the H-1B visa and the path ahead for high-skilled immigration.

The panel coincided with the H-1B visa filing period, which opened Monday. Last year, U.S. employers filed a record 236,000 applications for 85,000 available visas that would allow high-skilled individuals to come here and create jobs for American workers. It was the fourth year in a row in which the H-1B visa cap was met under a week.

Participants called for reforms to attract and retain the world’s best and brightest engineers, scientists, and researchers to create American jobs, as well as to stamp out abuses and better protect American workers:

Despite attending high school in North Carolina and graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Angie Gontaruk initially lost the H-1B lottery and was forced to return to Argentina with short notice, leaving her small company behind without a creative producer.

“High-skilled immigrants come to the United States to give our expertise and diverse, innovative, and creative solutions and add a huge benefit to companies across all industries. Every single immigrant adds something unique and necessary,” said Gontaruk, now a creative producer with the CSpence Group in the Bay Area. “I choose to be here because this was where I was brought up, where I studied, and where I get to do a job I truly love. I chose to stay here because I wanted to focus my time, energy, and expertise in a country that has given me so much, and where I want to give back. ”

 

“The beauty of America itself is the fact that it was built by immigrants. Immigration is the sincerest form of flattery for any country,” said Avinash Conda. Conda graduated with a masters degree in applied computing from Eastern Kentucky University in 2010. He is now at the beginning of an 8-year wait for a green card.

 

“This country has an untenable ability to attract some of the best people in the world. Our university system serves as our generation’s Ellis Island. There’s this passion, hunger, drive, or ‘the adversity muscle’, that immigrants can tolerate anything and they’re not going to stop until they accomplish it. I’m a firm believer that immigrants are the heartbeat of entrepreneurship. Let’s preserve the innovation economy,” said Manan Mehta, founding partner with Unshackled Ventures.

 

“There’s got to be a doubling down of investment on education and public education, in addition to immigration reform. We have to protect our Dreamers alongside the repairs needed for the H-1B system,” said UnitedSF Executive Director Laura Moran, who worked to bring in bilingual teachers on H-1B visas to head up the ESL program at Oakland and San Francisco schools. “And it’s clear: we don’t have enough doctors, enough teachers, or engineers. “In the Bay, there was a real shortage of teachers who are bilingual, who can teach in dual immersion programs, or foreign language programs. Nothing is worse as head of HR when you go into a classroom that doesn’t have a teacher. These teachers were a small but valued part of our community. “

 

“If you’re a foreign founder, immigration is an important factor in how investors view you and your business and its long term viability. If you don’t have a future immigration status here in the United States, you won’t have a viable company for investors. And this is where we hit a hurdle because of our existing immigration framework,” said Ann Cun, Managing Attorney with Accel Visa Attorneys, PC.

 

“Our visa system is half a century old and Congress has failed to update our high-skilled immigration system since 1990. This woefully outdated system harms the American economy by inhibiting its capacity for growth. High-skilled immigrants grow the American economy, create jobs for Americans and boost wages for native-born workers,” said FWD.us Northern California Director Mark Ranneberger. “We need to work towards commonsense immigration reform that would reform and expand the H-1B visa and OPT program, and create a startup visa to help the U.S. stay competitive in today’s global economy.”

 

“The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce represents more than 2500 member business organizations and their employees to support local business, promote commerce and cultivate a dynamic economy. Our business partners are from every sector – the tech industry,  retail, manufacturing, financial services and small business – and at the heart of all them is maintaining a thriving and diverse workforce. Immigration provides a competitive advantage to businesses who can recruit employees who are at the top of their fields and can ultimately create more jobs here in the U.S,” said Tallia Hart, President & CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce

High-skilled immigrants provide incredible contributions to the United States’ economy, particularly in Silicon Valley. In addition to boosting wages for native-born workers, they create employment opportunities for U.S. citizens and fill a critical skills gap in the labor force for rapidly-growing companies.

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Business leaders and immigration policy experts discussed the current state of the H-1B visa and the path ahead for high-skilled immigration at a panel Monday evening co-sponsored by FWD.us and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. (Photo credit: FWD.us)