There was great news yesterday in the MA entrepreneurial community when Governor Patrick proposed sweeping legislation to ban companies from enforcing non-compete agreements. I’m really excited about this, and think that it will have a big impact. But just as important in my mind is a proposal that was introduced to allow international entrepreneurs to build businesses in Boston with an exemption from the H-1B visa cap. My friend Jeff Bussgang has discussed it in more detail on his blog here.
This particularly hits home for me because I myself was on an H1-B for my entire professional life before gaining permanent residency in the United States in 2007. Lucky for me, it was a lot easier to get an H1-B when I was applying for them than they are today. Just recently, the entire allotment (85,000) for H-1B visas for FY 2015 were filled in the first week. When I was applying for jobs, the cap was 2.3X that (195K), and I have to imagine there was not as much demand then as there is today.
It’s hard to underestimate the impact that being able to work in the US has had on my life. Almost certainly, I would have centered my career around China and Southeast Asia, and my professional trajectory would have been totally different. On top of that, I met many of my most important people in my life through work experiences that I was only able to have because of an H-1B. Most importantly, my wife Nancy and I worked at the same company after college, a boutique consulting firm called “The Parthenon Group” (Parthenon was the first company to sponsor my H-1B). There is no way we would would be married and have a family today if it were not for their ability to sponsor me. Also, David, one of my co-founders at NextView also worked at this firm, as did some of our first investors and the founder of one of our portfolio companies. I also probably would never have been able to work at Ebay in the current immigration environment, because by the time I was seriously speaking to them, there would have been no visas left for someone like me.
As an investor, we’ve benefitted from the ability of international founders to start and build companies in the US. Four of our portfolio company founders are from other countries (India, Estonia, Croatia, and Canada). But building US based companies for these founders have not always been easy. In particular, Jay Meattle, the founder of Shareaholic struggled to stay in the United States for years even after raising millions of dollars in capital from terrific firms and building a company of impressive scale. It was a really unfortunate tax on the company, and caused him to start building out part of his team in India for a period of time rather than hiring more American employees, which was his preference. Thankfully, Jay has been back in the United States for over a year and these immigration worries are well behind him.
We will see where things go – I’m excited for this proposal and think that this, or something like it has a lot of promise. I hope the proposed program works and is replicated more broadly around the country. Stay tuned to this blog for updates and ways that you can help promote immigration reform further to make the United States (and MA in particular) a better place for entrepreneurs to build their businesses.