Tag: immigration reform

Austin Entrepreneurs Advocate for Immigration Reform

Founder of Silicon Hills News


Immigration laws haven’t kept pace with the digital economy, said Burnie Burns, founder of Austin-based Rooster Teeth.

Burns spoke on a panel of entrepreneurs promoting immigration reform Tuesday night at Techstars’ offices in downtown Austin. Erika Sumner, co-founder of Social Good TV, moderated the event.

The other panelists included Anurag Kumar, CEO of iTexico, a web and mobile app development company and Kristel Viidek and Marko Kruustuk, co-founders of Testlio, a mobile app testing service.

FWD.us and Partnership for a New American Economy are hosting events in nine cities in two weeks with the goal of accelerating immigration reform.

The Austin event attracted more than 50 people for a two-hour discussion featuring two panels.

The entrepreneurs took to the stage first. In 2004, Burns founded Rooster Teeth, which has the fourth most watched YouTube channel in the world with 5 billion views. He discussed his problems getting visas for immigrants to work for his company.

Burns ran into a lot of trouble when he tried to bring, Gavin Free, 18, from the United Kingdom to work for him.

Free is an expert on slow motion video and he’s a viral Internet hit, Burns said. Free created a video of him jumping on a six-foot water balloon in his backyard in slow motion, which has more than 50 million views on YouTube.

icode-28percentBut the U.S. government issues only 85,000 H-1B high-skilled worker visas each year. And the annual quota is met every year within the first week of April; five business days after the filing period opens.

“We had to go through all these processes to get him to qualify for a visa,” Burns said. Free’s age and educational level proved to be big barriers to overcome to qualify for a visa for workers of extraordinary ability, Burns said. He also had to have several letters written to immigration officials on his behalf.

In 2010, Rooster Teeth had to educate the U.S. Department of Labor about what YouTube was and why it was an important platform, Burns said. And then they had to prove why Free was an important extraordinary talent in this new industry. Rooster Teeth can employ contractors overseas in the U.K. and pay them to upload videos to from there, Burns said. But the U.S. doesn’t benefit from Rooster Teeth sending money to them aboard.

“My channel can be global but my company really can’t,” Burns said.

Immigration reform needs to address emerging technologies and ways to get talent to the U.S. to fuel those industries, Burns said.

In the Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos metro area, companies filed requests for 3,087 H-1B visas in 2010-2011, according to FWD.us. They paid a minimum of $1,575 for each H-1B application.

The founders of Testlio, Viidik and Kruustuk from Estonia might have to leave the country to grow their startup. The two launched their company in London and moved to Austin to participate in the Techstars program. They would like to stay here but they are having trouble getting visas. They may have to move their company back to London.

Another panelist, Kumar, founder of iTexico, immigrated to the United States at the age of 21 with no money, no family and no friends. Thanks to the immigration policy of the 1980s, he was able to get his green card and stay and start his first company when he was 25.

“I wonder what if the green card processing took six years, seven years or ten years like it does now where would I be right now? I probably would have had to do something else,” Kumar said.

Last week, the government of Mexico honored his company, iTexico, an Austin-based mobile and Web development company, with the 2014 National Entrepreneurship Award in the small business category.

“Talent is everything,” Kumar said.

And U.S. companies are in a global competition to attract the best talent to fuel growth in their businesses and the economy.

BmWSEXBCEAAbD0e-1Yet a mismatch between job openings in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math fields and the current workforce in Austin exists, said Michelle Skelding, vice president of technology for the Austin Chamber of Commerce.

Skelding spoke on a second panel of experts which included John Holmes, vice president of legal at Freescale Semiconductor, Peter French, president of Café Commerce in San Antonio and Ramey Ko, attorney with Jung Ko PLLC.

Currently Austin has 8,000 job openings, as of March 2014, for computer science and math jobs, Skelding said. And there are 29,000 net job openings beyond that, she said. Austin has an unemployment rate of 4.5 percent right now. So there’s a gap in available talent and jobs.

Austin universities graduate 3,000 people in the STEM fields every year, so there’s a huge need and gap in the talent pool, Skelding said.

“We need to look internationally to fill those jobs and we’re not going to displace anyone in the process,” Skelding said.

For every H1-B visa filled there’s a positive correlation with job creation with 7.5 jobs created, Skelding said.

Freescale Semiconductor has 4,500 employees in Austin and hired 115 people in Austin last year.

“Eighty percent of the folks we are hiring require immigration assistance,” Holmes said.

Freescale currently has 250 employees on H1-B visas, he said.

“The wait for those folks, I think for us is four to eight years,” Holmes said.

The worst day for the UPS man in Austin isn’t Christmas but the H1-B visa deadline day, Holmes said. In the “bizarre lottery system” for H1-B Visas this year, Freescale got 60 H1-B Visas out of the 120 applications, he said.

“Freescale would like to see the H1-B visa cap raised dramatically or eliminated,” Holmes said.

Freescale also supports the right to work initiative which allows a graduate of an accredited U.S. university with a master’s degree or higher in a STEM field to automatically get a visa.

Small businesses and startups aren’t participating in the H1-B Visa process, said Peter French, president of Café Commerce in San Antonio. The process needs to be fixed, he said.

Some of the programs to obtain visas for immigrants are underutilized, French said. To find a solution, businesses need to think more creatively about how to keep immigrants in the U.S. working, French said. Research universities have an exemption, under the American Competitiveness Act for the 21st Century, for the H1-B cap, he said.

“We can do it with some of the tools we already have,” French said.

“We’re going to find a way,” he said. “The entrepreneurs are going to figure it out.”

Immigration reform legislation has been stalled in Congress, but the issue should be addressed again this fall, said Ko. The tech community from July to November should send letters, make calls and email Congress members in favor of immigration reform, he said.

The Partnership for a New American Economy is asking people to visit pnae.us/eletter to pledge support.


Immigration Reform Needs a Strong Push Now Panelists Say

Reporter with Silicon Hills News

Congressman Lloyd Doggett and John Holmes, vice president with Freescale Semiconductor

Congressman Lloyd Doggett and John Holmes, vice president with Freescale Semiconductor

Congressman Lloyd Doggett said some immigration reform bill must be passed this year, because if Congress waits until January, the hurdles will be even greater.

Rep. Doggett spoke Monday morning at Capital Factory on a panel about immigration reform sponsored by FWD.US. Other panelists included Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business, Peter French, founder at FreeFlow Research in San Antonio that works with small businesses and immigrants to help identify routes that would let qualified STEM workers remain in the U.S., Michael Golden, partner with Boulette & Golden with handles employment and immigration law. The panel was moderated by John Holmes, vice president, legal at Freescale Semiconductor.

The immigration reform issue has many facets. On one hand it tackles how to deal with illegal immigrants. Some conservative factions want to build a fence between the U.S. and Mexico and allow medical facilities to report illegal immigrants who come in for treatment. Doggett has voted against those measures. But more pertinent to the audience Monday was the talent shortage for STEM companies, especially small businesses that would happily hire recent grads from U.S. universities—the majority of whom are not citizens–but for uncertainty of being able to keep them in the country. In addition, many startups are founded by immigrants, creating jobs and boosting the economy in general.

Goodbye Gang of Eight

Immigration reform panelists: Michael Golden, partner with Boulette & Golden, Peter French with FreeFlow Research, Bill Hammond, with the Texas Association of Business, Rep. Lloyd Doggett and  John Holmes with Freescale Semiconductor.

Immigration reform panelists: Michael Golden, partner with Boulette & Golden, Peter French with FreeFlow Research, Bill Hammond, with the Texas Association of Business, Rep. Lloyd Doggett and John Holmes with Freescale Semiconductor.

Rep. Doggett co-sponsored the “Attracting the Best and Brightest Act” to expand visas for applicants with STEM backgrounds and supported measures to slow illegal immigration while encouraging more avenues for residency and citizenship. He said he thought there would be action on the bill last summer. But then the Gang of Eight pushing it forward began to dissolve as various members dropped out saying they “didn’t trust President Obama.” Doggett said he suspected they hadn’t trusted President Obama before they worked on the bill either, but that was their reason for abandoning it.

“I still hope that there could be action this year,” Doggett said. “There are several ways to get this issue up in front of the House. The only way we ended the government shutdown or passed the Violence Against Women Act was to let a majority of the House rule.” Doggett is talking about getting a discharge petition which would have to be signed by all the House Democrats and 18 or 19 Republicans and would force the bill out of committee and up for a vote.

Linking With Bibles and Badges

Hammond pointed out that the opponents of immigration reform would be “melting down” the phones of their representatives and that supporters of immigration reform had to do the same. But they have to speak the language of the Republicans they’re trying to sway. Hammond, who is a member of a group called Bibles, Badges and Business for Immigration Reform, suggested finding a law enforcement officer or member of the Evangelical community to petition Republicans.

“They are the natural allies of Republicans,” Hammond said. “You need to get them engaged…. All these groups need to work together.” Speaking for himself, Hammond said, he’d like to take all the immigration caps off and let the marketplace “tell us what to do.”

French said that there were more than 800,000 foreign born students in the U.S. and only 85,000 H-1B Visas every year. “They are encouraged to go back to their home countries and compete against the United States. That’s a problem for the competitiveness of the United States as a whole.”

In addition French said, many of the spouses of people with H-1B Visas are not allowed to work while in the U.S. But they, too, have master’s degrees or PhDs and could be making valuable contributions to innovation and the economy.

Golden said the worst part was the uncertainty. Last year there were 124,000 applicants for the 85,000 H-1B Visas and the numbers may double or triple this year. The process for choosing who gets to stay is a lottery. He’s known people who were waiting since 2007. These are people who might build businesses if they had confidence that they would not have to pack up everything and leave once they’d established themselves. They’re also people who could contribute to existing companies if those companies had confidence they would not lose a key employee because the lottery didn’t pick them. Those immigrants, French and Golden said, are being wooed by countries like Canada who will then have a competitive advantage over the U.S.

Simple Majority

Doggett pointed out that there are definitely people who will never be swayed to reform immigration to allow more people to stay, regardless of their qualifications.

“We have to all move forward together or we won’t move at all,” he said. The House may pass some measures individually and pass them to the Senate where they’ll be formed into a cohesive law. But debate in Congress, he said, isn’t fact based. A lot of it has to do with emotions. Proponents need to come up with the stories that will appeal to the sensibilities of opponents.

“Some people will never be persuaded,” he said. “But we just need a majority. We don’t need to win over the entire population on this issue. “

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