Immigrants Founded Half Of The Top U.S. Start-Up Ventures

Alex Mehr and Shayan Zadeh, Iranian immigrants, founded the online dating site Zoosk.

Studies continue to show the important economic impact immigrants have on the national economy as well as states, be it the millions in losses Alabama faces after passing a draconian immigration law to the number of jobs immigrants help create.

Now venture capitalists are arguing for immigration reform for the sake of the economy after a study showed that immigrants founded almost half of the U.S.’s top 50 start-up companies and are vital management or development employees at roughly 75 percent of the nation’s leading cutting-edge companies.

Companies with immigrant founders include the textbook rental company Chegg and the online craft site Etsy. The most common countries of origin for these entrepreneurs were India, Israel, Canada, Iran, and New Zealand, and for many, their experiences creating a start-up were “uniquely American,” according to the report by the National Federation for American Policy:

The stories of how the companies were founded carry a uniquely American feel. In true “only in America” fashion, two former students at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran ended up in San Francisco and established an online romantic social network that is considered a top destination for singles. The men had to abandon another company they started years earlier after an immigration attorney informed the pair it was virtually impossible for a foreign national to gain a visa as the founder of a startup company. […]

While it is often large companies that are cited in media accounts supporting liberalized immigration rules for highly-skilled foreign nationals, Eric Lekacz, a native-born co-founder of ExteNet Systems, which provides network infrastructure for wireless providers, points out that hiring the right person can be even more critical for newer companies. “When in the emerging growth phase you have to get the best person without regard to race or ethnicity,” he said.

The NFAP’s report concludes that the U.S. needs policies to retain talented entrepreneurs in the U.S., but the hoops can be high for those who want to immigrate to the U.S. And the cap for H-1B visas, highly sought after for IT workers, has already been reached for the 2012 fiscal year, so anyone who wants to apply for the visa will have to wait another year before trying. “It’s a gamble whether an entrepreneur should stay or leave right now, and that’s not how the immigration system should work,” said Mark Heesen, president of the National Venture Capital Association, according to the Chicago Tribune. “What we need is legislation that helps these entrepreneurs from outside the United States.”