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)

Recognizing Immigrant Contributions

Posted by Jóse Dejesus-Gil on 11/04/2016

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I am an immigrant. I know this. I live it. Everyday.

As we draw closer to Election Day, there has been a lot of talk about the challenges those of us as immigrants face. This is true, we face many. We should also empower the incredible contributions we (immigrants) make to this country. In trying to figure out how I can help in continuing the conversation, it dawned on me the dire need for real discussions about immigration reform.

Bringing the #IAmAnImmigrant campaign to The New School created a space for conversations at an institution where students are hungry for social change. A campaign focused on raising awareness of our country’s diversity meant an entryway for people like me to get involved in the cause. During our event, I had the pleasure of speaking to countless students, faculty and staff about their stories. These stories ranged from students born in the United States with undocumented parents to allies of the movement finding new ways to spread knowledge around their communities. At the core of these stories, was a desire to change a broken system that has followed us for decades.

“I needed to share my story. I needed to understand that I was not alone in this fight.”

As a son of immigrant parents who migrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic for a better life, and an immigrant myself, the idea of mass deportation and the repeated talks of building walls hits close to home. Having close family members that are currently undocumented who have not been provided with a pathway for citizenship essentially means the breaking of my family roots. I needed to share my story. I needed to understand that I was not alone in this fight. The numerous names in the wall canvas we created during our event represents the struggle millions of people face everyday to be heard. The need to feel like they are part of the community they so honorably serve. This struggles crosses race, gender or socioeconomic status. This struggle is the reality millions of our people face.

Deconstructing the stereotypes and misconceptions about who we (immigrants) are and the value that we bring to the community is also crucial. There are often talks on both sides about pros and cons of coming up with a comprehensive plan for reform, but often little action. In a time when the future of our country is dependent on the election results of Tuesday night, it is more important than ever that our elected officials see the value in having the 11 million undocumented immigrants contribute to our society on all fronts. We are educators, entrepreneurs, and the driving force of an economy that will collapse if the decision of deporting these 11 million people ever finds the light of day.

And while I am one of many fighting to spread the word on the importance of comprehensive immigration reform, we must continue to raise our voices and demand to be heard. We have a social responsibility to be the voice of those who are afraid; of those who understandably feel defeated. Experiencing the overwhelming amount of students across the country on November 1st during the Day of Action sharing their stories and demanding change ignited in me a sense of hope. I am proud to stand alongside FWD.us in their fight to build a movement that makes Congress accountable in fixing this broken system.

By Jóse Dejesus-Gil

Program Administrator for Parsons School of Design at The New School

@JDejesusGil

GOP and Tech Leaders Gather in Orange Country to Address Need for Immigration Reform

Posted by Catherine Lyons on 08/04/2016

GOP and Tech Leaders Address Need for Immigration ReformOn July 26th, more than 150 business leaders, elected officials, and company representatives attended a summit on immigration reform, hosted by FWD.us and the Internet Marketing Association at the Richard Nixon Library and Museum in Orange County, California.

The evening featured Congresswoman Representative Mimi Walters (CA-45), Michael Dubin, CEO of Dollar Shave Club, Rob Jesmer, Campaign Manager for FWD.us, and Faquiry Diaz Cala, CEO of Tres Mares Group, who participated in a panel discussion on pressing economic issues including immigration reform. One point the event showcased: there is bipartisan agreement and support for comprehensive and commonsense immigration reform legislation in 2017.

Each panelist agreed that Congress and political leaders from both parties need to come together to update an immigration system that hasn’t been reformed for 30 years.

Commonsense immigration reform is especially needed in areas like Orange County and the Central Valley of California. Immigration Reform would boost California’s GDP by nearly $11 billion to around $27 billion over the next decade.

It is clear that now, more than ever, we need to come together and pass commonsense immigration reform.

Texas Celebrates Immigrant Heritage Month by Hosting Immigrant-Founded Startup Pitch Challenge

Posted by Nick Baker on 08/02/2016

Immigrant Heritage Month Texas

Cobby Amoah, founder of Obaa, speaks at the Immigrant Heritage Month event in Dallas, Texas. (Photo credit: Luiz Sifuentes)

June marked the third Immigrant Heritage Month, and the Dallas Chapter of FWD.us came together to celebrate the occasion by hosting a pitch challenge featuring immigrant-founded startups.

Two companies, Obaa and La Gioia, tied for third place in the pitch competition. Obaa, founded by Cobby Amoah, focuses on streamlining data sharing and communications between healthcare providers and patients. The startup aims to improve healthcare outcomes for patients and lower costs for providers with his all-in-one platform. La Gioia, founded by William Lechuga, delivers exclusive designer uniforms at affordable prices, to businesses such as boutique hotels and restaurants. William aspires to help businesses communicate their brand to consumers through fashion. Check out this photo album for an inside look at all the pitches and presentations from the event.

Cobby and William are both immigrant entrepreneurs. Cobby is originally from Ghana, and William immigrated to America from Spain. Cobby initially came to America with the goal of becoming a doctor. However, when he realized computers were going to dramatically alter the healthcare industry, Cobby decided to shift course and found a health tech company. He dreams of drastically improving our health care system, but there are many challenges he must overcome along the way. In addition to the challenges inherent to being an entrepreneur, he must also navigate the complicated U.S. immigration system. Cobby has applied for a green card based on his extraordinary talent–but there is no guarantee it will come through.

Immigrant Heritage Month Texas

William Lechuga, founder of La Gioia, is in the process of applying for an E-2 investor visa. (Photo credit: Lilimar Oliveras)

William is a newcomer to Texas. He made the move to Dallas at the beginning of April of this year in order to grow his business and pursue opportunities that don’t exist elsewhere. William envisions La Gioia changing the way institutions present themselves to the world. In five to ten years, he sees La Gioia serving a variety of markets, including schools, airlines, and hospitals. William is in the process of applying for an E-2 investor visa. But since the E-2 is a “non-immigrant” visa, it won’t enable William to apply for a green card. Without a clear long-term immigration pathway for entrepreneurs, Cobby and William have no assurance they will be able to stay in the U.S, grow their businesses, and benefit our communities.

Cobby and William are not alone in the challenges they face as immigrant entrepreneurs. Cobby believes a Startup Visa would be beneficial both for immigrant entrepreneurs as well as the United States. He has many friends who have faced similar issues with the American immigration system. If hardworking, entrepreneurial immigrants are able to stay in the U.S., they will contribute both innovations and jobs to our communities.

To put the entrepreneurial drive of immigrants in perspective, the American Immigration Council found that immigrants started more than a quarter of a million businesses from 2006 to 2010 in Texas alone. These are businesses that generate revenue, create jobs, and contribute to the state’s economy. Immigrant entrepreneurs are at the forefront of innovation, but they lack the necessary tools to stay in the U.S and grow their businesses. Without a long-term immigration pathway for these entrepreneurs, we miss out on the economic benefits generated by companies like Obaa and La Gioia.

FWD.us’ Push For Reform tool makes it easy to advocate for immigrant entrepreneurs. Simply type in your address to find out where your member of Congress stands on immigration reform, and use the built-in tools to to contact your representative via social media, a phone call, or even a custom letter.

It’s up to you to let our leaders in Congress know we support entrepreneurs like Cobby and William.