As a venture capitalist, I spend my time thinking about talent. Who are the best people in the world to invest in? How do I help them attract the best people in the world to team with them to build their companies into massive successes from scratch?
That is why I have been so frustrated with our country's backward immigration system. For me, as the son of an immigrant entrepreneur, it is a combination of a social justice issue and an economic pragmatism that has led me to be so passionate and engaged in reforming our broken system.
In the last few months, as I watched Washington DC fumble around with a comprehensive immigration reform bill (passed in the Senate, floudering in the House), I began to wonder if something might be done on a local, state level to address this issue. Massachusetts has a pro-business Governor and Legislature, an Innovation-heavy economy, and a history of successful public-private partnerships. Surely we could figure something out while we wait for the Washington politicians to go through their machinations?
Thanks to the help of a few talented immigration lawyers – Jeff Goldman and Susan Cohen – and a dedicated group of public servants – led by Greg Bialecki and Pamela Goldberg – an idea emerged to address this issue head on in an innovative way that is consistent with the federal rules and regulations, but allows the state to attract and retain international entrepreneurs.
The idea is a simple one: create a private-public partnership to allow international entrepreneurs to come to Boston and be exempt from the restrictive H-1B visa cap. How is it possible to do this? The US Citizenship and Immigration Services Department (USCIS) has a provision that allows universities to have an exemption to the H-1B visa cap. Governor Deval Patrick announced today that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will work in partnership with UMass to sponsor international entrepreneurs to be exempt from that cap, funding the program with state money to kick start what we anticipate will be a wave of private sector support.
This innovative program has tremendous potential. For Massachusetts, it means we are sending a message to entrepreneurs around the globe that we want them to come here to start and scale companies. For other states, it is a model that can be replicated if local leaders from the private and public sector can come together and cooperate to work out the details to launch and operate this program, as we have done over the last few months.
This year will be a pilot year (with a nod to the Lean Start Up!) and I'm sure we will learn a lot along the way, but I am super excited about the potential that this program presents for the state and the country as a whole.