October 2, 2012
At the immigration law firm where I worked during graduate school, I saw case after case of extremely talented individuals who, despite their many contributions to the U.S., faced the threat of returning home because of their immigration status. One such case involved the immigration struggles of a highly successful postdoctoral fellow from a top-five university whose work had led to a patent for a medical treatment for metastatic cancer. Another client, the founder of a multimillion dollar high-tech startup, had fallen out of legal status because immigration law lacked clear-cut visa categories for early-stage entrepreneurs. After working on such cases, I periodically would joke to clients that I wasn’t sure if the law firm could help them, as the immigration agency would not even allow cancer curers to remain in the country.
When Vivek Wadhwa invited me to become a researcher for his study on immigrant entrepreneurship, I already had experienced my fair share of visa horror stories faced by talented foreign-born innovators. I consequently came to the project with my own suspicions that immigrants were forgoing the U.S. for other opportunities abroad as the result of the U.S.’s restrictive immigration policy and the weakened state of the economy.