Opening US immigration


Tuesday we and Aneesh Chopra, CTO of the USA come to Singularity University and among many things, he was asked about immigration. (In part because our class comes from 35 countries and many of them would love to be entrepreneurs in the USA.) Chopra announced some immigration rule clarifications that had come out that day which will help things somewhat. They did rule clarifications because getting congress to do meaningful reform is very hard.

I gave him one suggestion, inspired by something I saw long ago at a high-roller CEO conference for the PC industry. In a room of 400 top executives and founders of PC and internet startups, it was asked that all who were born outside the USA stand up. A considerable majority (including myself) stood. I wished every opponent of broader immigration could see that.

So I proposed that he, or others, go around to conferences of high-tech entrepreneurs and founders, and ask this question, and film the people standing up. Then edit that into a nice rapid-fire video to play for members of congress and immigration opponents. It's hard to argue with. The hope of US leadership and job creation is severely diminished without immigrants.

It's often been lamented that some of the brightest from the world, who beg to come to the USA to get degrees, are then kicked out when their education ends, and they go home with their PhD. "Staple a green card to a PhD" is one approach.

A different approach, possibly to be combined, is to create a provisional permanent resident status. The main rule, perhaps the only rule, is that if you are on it you must pay a minimum tax averaging $30,000 per year for six years. You can go below once or twice but must make it up to bring up the average. And once you hit the total of $180,000 you get a real green card. If you don't hit it, you can leave. If you don't leave and don't pay, it's tax evasion, for which you can be both jailed and deported.

Yes, this is access for the rich. It means the wealthy could buy green cards, but also that entrepreneurs or people will well funded partners could easily get in. More to the point, the people coming in would clearly not be a drain on U.S. society. And with the salary needed to pay $30K in tax being about $130,000 (based on the real tax rate including all deductions) these are largely not people "stealing US jobs by working cheap." Admittedly an employer could offer to pay an immigrant a low wage and pick up the tax but that could be illegal if difficult to enforce.

This price is below the prices often cited for "buy immigrant status" programs in the US and around the world, and the values in investor visas. I think you want to get young, less well-heeled entrepreneurs so I think million dollar prices are the wrong idea. But it may be that there is some price that even the biggest xenophobes will agree results in a net win. What is that number?


Most people that I know that oppose open immigration are doing so because of the gargantuan welfare state that we have will not be able to withstand a massive influx of poor. I don't think you'd find much opposition to a road to citizenship based on higher education...

As a US engineer, I have no problem with competing on equal ground. I have a problem with the current H1-B visas that take 5 years and create a nice, cheap, compliant indentured servant class.

The solution is easy: an H1-B automatically promotes to a green card after 12 months if the person is still working for the sponsoring company. The sponsoring company is responsible for paying for the required security check.

Now an H1-B seatshop will be easy to spot. Companies can't treat H1-B employees badly as they can leave. And the H1-B caps are more than sufficient.

Of course, companies don't seem to like this solution. Funny that.

I presume you mean they can't treat the new green card holders badly.

Another option for those not ready to hand out green cards at high speed is to allow the h1-b to be trivially switched to another employer, perhaps with a modest financial penalty if done very early in the term, usually picked up by the new employer.

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