Immigrant-led Ventures Driving Job Growth, Innovation

Immigrants are among the primary drivers of start-up businesses in the United States, according to a recently released National Foundation for American Policy report.

The NFAP report examined 50 top venture-funded privately held U.S. companies, and found that 46 percent were founded or co-founded by an immigrant. In addition, 74 percent of the companies had an immigrant working in a top management or product development position, with the most common immigrant-held jobs being CIO, CEO and vice president of engineering.

Most of the immigrant founders of these start-ups hailed from India, Israel, Canada, Iran and New Zealand, but European nationalities were also well-represented, with founders coming from Italy, Greece, Norway, Germany, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and France.

According to the report, the findings not only illustrated the critical role immigrants play in fostering U.S. economic growth and innovation, but showed that successful immigrant entrepreneurs often partner with U.S. citizens to create new businesses and develop new products and services.

Given the economic benefits stemming from immigrant entrepreneurship, the report stated it makes sense for the United States to pursue immigration reform policies to encourage this trend. The report singled out the case of Alex Mehr and Shayan Zaden, the Iranian founders of the popular online dating site Zoosk. Despite earning advanced degrees at U.S. universities, the two men were unable to secure the U.S. visas necessary for starting their business until Mehr won a green card through the annual diversity lottery.

Lawmakers in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have introduced bills that would make it easier for graduates of science, technology, math and engineering advanced degree programs to remain in the United States to work, but in the meantime, some creative workarounds are being proposed to help immigrant entrepreneurs get their businesses up and running. A start-up called Blueseed is planning to offer office space on a ship that will be based in international waters off the California coast, providing immigrant-run businesses a way to operate in close proximity to Silicon Valley even if they have not been able to secure all the necessary visas to live and work in the United States.