Immigrants Vital to Help Tech Startups Become Multibillion Dollar Companies Here in the U.S.

From the moment he was offered a job at a tech startup in San Mateo, Calif. in 2013, Brazilian-born software engineer Rocir Santiago, worried that U.S. immigration policy would create unnecessary obstacles for his family and career. “The visa process is complex and uncertain. It discourages people from moving to the United States for work,” Santiago says. Indeed, it almost discouraged him.

Santiago had a job waiting for him, but due to the limited number of visas the United States offers to high-skilled workers like himself, he had to enter into a random lottery. “It was really, really stressful,” Santiago says. “My future was completely unknown, left to luck.” He was chosen. But even then, the complexities of immigration policy kept him in Brazil for another five months.

His wife joined him in California a year later. But since only her husband had qualified for a visa, she was not allowed to work.  The couple was forced to live on Santiago’s salary alone for a year and a half. It was a precarious situation: If anything were to happen to Santiago’s job or health, the couple would not be able to support themselves.

And Santiago’s wife is well-educated: she is a licensed pharmacist with a master’s degree from Brazil. There was ample work available for her, but since employment would have been illegal, she spent nearly two years without the ability to make any kind of civic or economic contribution to her community. All of this was enough for Santiago to seriously consider moving to a different country that is more welcoming to immigrants. “I considered Canada, New Zealand, and Australia,” he says. “It wouldn’t have been as good [professionally] as Silicon Valley, but it would have been easier to secure a visa.”

The visa process is complex and uncertain. It discourages people from moving to the United States for work.

Applying for a green card has also been frustrating. “You never know how long it will take,” says Santiago. He started the process in September 2014 while working at Yahoo and hopes to get it next year. At the very least, now that Santiago is a green card applicant, his wife is allowed to work. She is a pharmacy technician, a position for which she is overqualified. Once she passes licensing exams, she will be able to become a fully fledged pharmacist.

In 2015, Santiago joined the online scrapbooking company Pinterest. Valued at $11 billion, Pinterest employs more than 500 people and boasts more than 100 million users. Santiago estimates that immigrants constitute up to 80 percent of the workers in his department. The reason, he says, is simple: the growing company cannot find enough native-born citizens or residents with adequate engineering skills to fill the open positions. But Santiago says that Pinterest’s diverse employee base helps make its product so successful. “The company pushes diversity,” Santiago says. “They recognize that collaboration between employees with different backgrounds, with unique ideas is valuable. It helps to have different perspectives when working on projects.”

About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…