Aliza Sir is the Social Entrepreneur in Residence at AARP Foundation, the country’s largest organization dedicated to issues facing Americans over the age of 50.
The Trump Administration’s decision to rescind the International Entrepreneur Rule (IER) is deeply disappointing for startups across the country. The rule was enacted to create a pathway for immigrant entrepreneurs to build companies and create jobs in the United States. For an Administration that has promised to spur job growth, this decision is incredibly short-sighted and detrimental to our long-term economic prosperity.
Today, as we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most ardent advocates for the advancement and equality of African Americans in history, we should reflect on the continuing injustice in our socioeconomic system and contemplate how we can more effectively work to close the racial entrepreneurship gap.
The debate over immigration policy intensified in 2017 as the new administration issued several executive orders aimed at curbing the flow of immigrants to the United States. Engine led the charge in pushing back against many of these measures, including a letter signed by over 200 startups opposing the Administration’s Executive Order banning citizens from seven countries. Skilled immigrants, especially those admitted under the H-1B program, bolster the country’s capacity for innovation and provide immense benefit to its economy at large. What’s more, foreign talent has fueled America’s thriving culture of entrepreneurialism and played a central role in making our country the leader in technology startups.
Tech Community Comes to Section 230’s Defense. Thousands of Internet companies rely on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects platforms from being held legally responsible for what their users say online. That’s why we and more than 30 companies, groups, and organizations—including Copia, Automattic, Cloudflare, GitHub, Medium, Patreon, and Reddit—wrote to two lawmakers looking to narrow Section 230’s protections in the name of curbing sex trafficking. In a letter this week, we reiterated the tech community’s demonstrated commitment to the laudable fight against sex trafficking but explained that the new bill from Sens. Rob Portman and Richard Blumenthal would have unintended devastating consequences for the Internet.
Engine Testifies Against Bad Patents at House Judiciary Committee Hearing. On Thursday, Engine’s President, Julie Samuels, testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet on the impact of bad patents on American businesses. Julie spoke to the weaknesses in the patent system and the progress that has been made to weed out low quality patents by Congress, the courts and the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Patent trolls, armed with low-quality patents, are able to extract settlements from startups and small businesses, adversely impacting the companies that can least afford these threats. Since startups and small businesses are key drivers of innovation and job growth, troll threats against them are particularly stifling to American economic growth and prosperity.
On Tuesday, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) revealed the committee’s top tech priorities for this Congress. Among the issues he hopes to address are encryption and surveillance, as well as high skilled immigration. On immigration, he suggested that too many green cards were being given to family members of current U.S. residents, instead of going to skilled laborers. He told reporters that his goal was to “find a balanced solution to increase the high-skilled talent pool to promote job growth through visa and green card reforms,” and to protect “job opportunities for similarly qualified Americans.”
On Tuesday afternoon, President Donald Trump signed an executive order reiterating the Administration’s policy to buy and hire American. On the ‘Hire American’ side, the EO directs federal agencies to evaluate the various programs that allow foreign workers to enter the United States, with a particular focus on the H-1B visa program. While the EO will not have a direct, immediate impact on the H-1B program, it brings new scrutiny to a visa category relied on heavily by the tech and startup communities. In a statement responding to the EO, Engine Executive Director, Evan Engstrom, called on the the Administration to consider the concerns of the startup community when reviewing and reforming the program: “[I]t is essential that they take into account the economic realities of the startup ecosystem and work to craft reform policies that do not inadvertently make it harder for startups to hire the talented workers they need.”
Yesterday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order reiterating the Administration’s policy to buy American and hire American. The ‘Hire American’ side of the Executive Order directs federal agencies to evaluate the various programs that allow foreign workers to enter the United States, with a particular focus on the H-1B visa program.
Last week, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai floated a proposal during a meeting with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that would roll back the net neutrality rules put in place by the previous Administration and replace them with “voluntary” commitments from ISPs. The proposal would completely undermine the Open Internet Order that the startup community backed in 2015, and Engine has put together a startup letter in conjunction with Y Combinator to push back, telling FCC Chairman Ajit Pai that any efforts to undo net neutrality will threaten startups’ ability to innovate and thrive. Learn more and sign the letter here.
H-1B season kicked off on Monday, and while the the White House missed the opportunity for a larger overhaul of the program before the lottery opened, the Administration did slip in a few changes at the last minute that have made the already chaotic process of applying for H-1Bs even more frenzied. Late last Friday, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) quietly issued a policy memo indicating a more rigorous vetting process for computer programmers. While the changes are mostly cosmetic in nature (USCIS has maintained that the guidance is a clarification of existing policy, not a “policy change”), the agency also announced on Monday that it would be increasing the number of targeted site visits to crack down on H-1B abuse and fraud. The same day, the Justice Department issued a strong warning that employers seeking H-1B visas must not discriminate against American workers. On their own, each of these changes is arguably meant to target outsourcing firms and abuse of the system, not technology companies (most of whom reserve their visas for more complicated, higher paying roles that cannot be filled by U.S. workers). But taken together, they indicate an intentional effort by the President to deliver on his campaign promise to “end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program, and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers first for every visa and immigration program.” We’re tracking.
Engine released a report on Wednesday highlighting the ways in which startups are capitalizing on Big Data to solve some of society’s biggest challenges. The paper also offers insights for policymakers seeking to foster innovation and social transformation while maintaining sufficient protections for the American public. To celebrate the report’s publication, Engine hosted a briefing on Capitol Hill, which was headlined by Reps. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) and Derek Kilmer (D-WA). They were joined by a distinguished panel of policy analysts and startup leaders from ITIF, FarmLogs, and LendUp. Panelists explained how the convergence of multiple datasets is really what drives insights, even more than the size of a single dataset. The also argued that the data generated and shared by the government should be high quality, interoperable, and widely available to entrepreneurs.
Very, Very Strange Times at Uber. Uber was thrown into a human resources and public relations nightmare this week after Susan Fowler, a former engineer at the ride-sharing giant, published a damning blog post recounting sexism, sexual harassment, and administrative negligence during her time at the company. The lack of diversity in the technology industry is well-documented, and while top executives at most Silicon Valley companies (including Uber) have acknowledged the problem and pledged to fix it, accounts like Fowler’s call into question whether those pledges are merely talk. The company’s CEO Travis Kalanick responded to the post by calling for an “urgent investigation” into the allegations, and tapped former Attorney General Eric Holder, board member Arianna Huffington, and the company’s Chief Human Resources officer, Liane Hornsey to lead the probe. However, some have called this approach into question, noting that the three individuals selected are all company insiders. Policymakers on the Hill have also responded to the story, calling on tech companies to do more to embrace diversity. Only time will tell how Uber will recover from this crisis, but in the meantime, there’s always Lyft.
Congress Talks Self-Driving Cars. As autonomous vehicles increasingly move from the realm of science fiction to literally hitting the pavement, policymakers are grappling with a broad range of issues presented by these new technologies, including safety, security, liability, and ethics. On Tuesday, Congress had the opportunity to dive deeper on some of these topics, as the House Energy & Commerce Committee’s Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection subcommittee convened a hearing on self-driving vehicles that included panelists from GM, Toyota, Volvo, Lyft, and the RAND Center for Decision Making Under Uncertainty. The participating industry giants called on Congress to relax existing safety regulations, such as the requirement that any vehicle have both a steering wheel and floor pedals, which they argued currently limit innovation. They also noted that the existing patchwork of state laws was stifling growth (Lyft called out California’s proposed laws in particular) and urged policymakers to do more to explicitly limit the ability of states to legislate on this emerging technology. To coincide with the hearing, several members highlighted efforts to improve regulatory flexibility for the industry (including potential legislation from Sens. John Thune and Gary Peters), and there will most certainly be more to come.
On Tuesday, more than 200 startups and investors from across the country joined Engine and the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) in sending a letter to President Trump opposing his Executive Orders on immigration—both the immigration ban EO signed on January 27th and the draft EO that would roll back existing worker visa and parole programs. In a statement, Engine Executive Director Evan Engstrom noted that “Beyond the obvious harm these policies would have on refugees, immigrants, and the U.S.'s standing in the world community, we wanted to make sure the President understood that these policies would have a major detrimental impact on entrepreneurship and innovation.” Signatories ranged from early-stage startups like NourishWise in Nashville, TN and WorkHound in Des Moines, IA, to later-stage companies like Pinterest, General Assembly, and Vimeo. The letter was also signed by almost 100 individual investors, including Ron Conway, Dave McClure, Venky Ganesan, Jeff Clavier, and William H. Draper III.
Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled against President Trump’s executive order banning the citizens of seven countries and refugees from entering the U.S., maintaining a lower court’s freeze on the order. As a result, immigrants and refugees who were previously barred from the country under Trump’s EO can continue to enter the U.S.
Today, more than 200 startups and investors from across the country joined Engine and the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) in sending a letter to President Trump opposing his Executive Orders on immigration—both the immigration ban EO signed on January 27th and the draft EO that would roll back existing worker visa and parole programs.
In a startling move after only one week in office, President Trump signed an Executive Order last Friday limiting the movement of immigrants—including lawful visa holders—and refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries into the U.S. In a statement, Evan Engstrom, Engine’s executive director, said “The executive order is both morally and economically misguided, and sets a dangerous precedent that signals to the rest of the world that America is no longer open for innovation.” Hundreds of companies and organizations released statements of their objection, including Google, Apple, AirBnB, Microsoft, the Internet Association, CCIA, CTA, and TechNet. As immigrants play an essential role in building and contributing to the success of American startups, we urge our fellow members of the startup ecosystem to sign our letter to President Trump to express their opposition.
The startup community is deeply troubled by the Administration’s decision to limit the movement of immigrants—including lawful visa holders—into the U.S. on the basis of religion and country of origin—a move that came with no forewarning and has engendered uncertainty for many people, including employees at America’s startups. The executive order is both morally and economically misguided, and sets a dangerous precedent that signals to the rest of the world that America is no longer open for innovation.