US VCs Need to Lobby For High Skilled Immigration Reform (and Sacrifice Preferential Tax Treatment If Needed)

Although my mother calls me “always curious” there are actually lots of things I’m ok not completely understanding. Most of the time these fall into categories of objects or activities that “just work reliably” or when there’s someone I trust who both shares my interests and has expertise in the area where I might maintain some ignorance. However, even when I don’t fully dedicate myself to studying something, a status quo appearing to be illogical drives me nuts. And such is the case with the United States not playing offense on high skilled immigration despite it generally polling as a bipartisan. What could be more American than the idea of ‘stealing’ the smartest people from around the world and turning them into tax paying, job creating citizens? America First indeed.

Now I can speculate why we’ve not seen enough movement on this segment of immigration reform. Democrats wooing the progressive left might be morally compromised in appearing to favor ‘high skill’ populations while ignoring other pressing immigration needs. Or be listening to the unions (who are largely wrong on this issue). Or be wary of any pro-immigration legislature becoming ‘soft on borders, browning of America’ rhetoric for their conservative voters in competitive districts. And many Republicans seem to be frightened of their own base on immigration or have also fallen victim to some form of incumbent regulatory capture. Or they just hate people who don’t look like them more than they care about our country’s future. These are Bad Reasons.

Writer Noah Smith has been an strong advocate for skills-based immigration reform and his essays on this topic have personally resonated. He took on the ‘wage competition‘ issue last December and more recently even the “is it detrimental to ‘poach’ other country’s skilled labor?” (Answer is No, in fact more often mutually beneficial). I belong to an industry (tech) and in a role (investor) which benefit immensely and directly from the entrepreneurism of technical founders, often first generation Americans or newly arrived. So my incentive here goes beyond some notion of ‘it’s the right thing to do for America’ generally (or symbolically) and right in the bullseye of “if we want the US tech industry to continue to lead the world it’s essential that we return to being a magnet – in work, in education, and in quality of life.”

Our industry association (the NVCA) also believes in immigration reform but seemingly as a priority second to taxes (at least if the Public Policy menu is ordered in importance). Taxes are a real issue for sure – much of their work is on the company-formation side (how stock options are treated, etc) and that matters to founders and teams. But quite simply we’ve reached the point where priorities deserve to be flipped.

False tradeoff you say? I can have my immigration reform and my carried interest designation? Great, I’ll take it I guess. But I’m a believer in priorities and so when it comes down to lobbying, coalition building, and calls to action, let me be amongst those who stand up and suggest the rest of this decade should be about putting our collective weight behind the future of our industry: importing brains.