Vivek Wadhwa on Immigration, U.S. ‘Reinventing Itself’ With Tech

[ 0 ] January 8, 2014 |

One of the nation’s brightest minds in technology, Vivek Wadhwa, talks to genConnect about the importance of comprehensive immigration reform and how it impacts innovation in America

For Vivek Wadhwa, immigration reform is key to America’s entrepreneurial success. With immigrants dominating much of the entrepreneurial sector – particularly in America’s Silicon Valley – there’s “a disaster brewing” when it comes to immigration reform and making sure the talented workers who come to the U.S. aren’t chased away by a frustrating immigration system, says Wadhwa, head of innovation and technology at Singularity University and author of The Immigrant Exodus: Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent. 

Wadhwa, who has become a leading voice in debates over technology policy as it pertains to entrepreneurship, innovation and immigration, in 2013 was named one of Time’s Tech 40: The Most Influential Minds in Tech. Watch as Wadhwa talks to genConnect at the 2013 Aspen Ideas Festival about his book, how America is “chasing away” some of the brightest minds in innovation in America, and the current immigration reform debate in Congress: 

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After entering the world of academia after a stint as a tech entrepreneur, Wadhwa, also a Stanford University fellow, began immigrantexodusanalyzing America’s “global advantage” and learned that a lot of the innovation coming from America was being driven by people who were born abroad.

In the Immigrant Exodus, Wadhwa, an immigrant himself, writes about America “chasing away” the people responsible for the majority of innovation and much of America’s growth at a crucial time. His research found that, during the greatest period of economic growth in Silicon Valley – also the greatest period of economic growth in this nation – 52 percent of start-ups were founded by immigrants.

Wadhwa realized “there’s a disaster brewing.”

“America kept bringing people like me in on temporary visas,” he said, but then many were left hanging when it came to making their citizenship permanent. After arriving in the U.S. in 1980, it took Wadhwa 18 months to get a green card. But it was taking the newer crop of immigrants five, 10, 15, even 20 years to get theirs.

“This created a major problem in America because people started to get frustrated and leaving the country,” he said. Meanwhile, countries experiencing a boom in their technology sectors, like Brazil, China and Chile, were booming. People who could be innovating in places like Silicon Valley and other areas with a high concentration of start-ups would leave for countries more hospitable to their talents.

Wadhwa thinks the Senate bill addressing immigration reform addresses about 80 percent of the problems facing the current immigration system and says that any improvement is better than the status quo. But he is much more critical of the House version of the bill. Although the bill has good intentions, he says, it “is very limited and it could damage the system.” The Senate bill would make it easier and more desirable for companies to sponsor highly skilled foreign workers for green cards, creating a citizenship path for them, as well.

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Wadhwa feels that our other biggest obstacle to innovation, besides immigration issues, is general negativity. “Technology is advancing faster than it ever has,” he says. “There’s a lot of pessimism about innovation and about shortages of food, water, healthcare maybe bankrupting this country. There’s a lot of fear about that, but the exact opposite is happening.”

Wadhwa is very optimistic, and believes that at the end of the decade, the U.S. will see major breakthroughs that will lead to having the technological knowledge to solve many of the world’s problems, although implementation of that innovation could take a long time. In fact, Wadhwa believes that America is going through a “major reinvention.”

“This country is reinventing itself using technology,” he says. “There are advances happening in medicine, advances happening in robotics, in 3D printing, in computing, in nano-technology; all across the board. And they’re all happening at the same time.”

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Category: Aspen Ideas Festival 2013

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About Vivek Wadhwa: Vivek Wadhwa is Vice President of Innovation and Research at Singularity University; Fellow, Arthur & Toni Rembe Rock Center for Corporate Governance, Stanford University; Director of Research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization [...]
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