Immigration Reform Can Reinvigorate the Economy

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Despite the current government shutdown, and negligible movement towards a resolution, the march towards immigration reform is continuing. Last week, House Democrats released a comprehensive reform bill, and House Republicans too are working on solutions behind the scenes. Though this shutdown, and the budget debates preceding it, have slowed the push toward reform, the issue is still a critical one.

Amidst signs of poor economic performance that will only get worse with the current shutdown and looming debt-ceiling debates, a comprehensive solution to immigration reform makes economic sense. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill will actually reduce the deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars over the next two decades.

In addition, research from The Kauffman Foundation found that in 2010, immigrants were twice as likely to start a business than their native-born brethren. Between 1995 and 2005, immigrants helped to found more than 25 percent of all

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high-tech firms. Furthermore, research from Engine shows us that high-tech firms create more jobs than non-tech firms, and that tech jobs have a reverberating effect in local economies, creating more jobs in the non-tradeable sector -- spurring nationwide economic growth.

About a third of the business plans we’ve reviewed at Foundry in the last year have had non-Americans on their founding team. Unfortunately, these individuals have too few avenues to build their businesses in this country -- and plenty of incentives to do so in other centers for high-tech, high-growth startups that have formed in countries such as India and China. Imagine the impact on the American economy if Google had been started in Russia, Intel in China, or Yahoo! in Chile.

Despite all of the economic benefits of immigration reform, at its heart, this is a debate about families, earning a decent living, and building our national identity. The United States of America is as much an ideal as it is a geopolitical entity, which is why a potential influx of new Americans evokes so many divisive emotions.

Our competitiveness on the world stage depends on remaining attractive to the most talented and dedicated individuals from across the world. There is an economic urgency to passing an immigration overhaul, yes, but also at stake is the symbolic importance of maintaining America’s status as a welcoming home for those with big dreams -- to build something truly innovative, or simply find a better way of life.

Jason is the co-founder and Managing Director of Foundry Group, a Boulder based venture capital firm that invests in early-stage information technology companies. Previously, Jason practiced law at Cooley Godward Kronish LLP, and was a software engineer at Accenture. Jason has both an economics and a law degree from the University of Michigan, and currently sits on the board of the National Venture Capital Association. Read more on his blog.