"Can you imagine if Facebook had a training program that said, "Come here, we'll pay for your training and teach you to do your job and then you [have to] go to Google?' Effectively, that's what we're doing in this country." So asks Hooman Radfar, the 32-year-old founder-chairman of AddThis, who was born in London after his family fled Iran. They eventually made it to the U.S., where he grew up a naturalized citizen and attended University of Pennsylvania and Carnegie Mellon. While his education helped him obtain the skills needed to build a social-sharing startup, his international grad-school classmates were forced to leave and take their new skills back to their own countries.
As Congress eyes a broad reform bill slated for spring, the issue has prompted smaller digital companies for the first time to join a rather large public-affairs initiative to effect broader government change.
Founders of tech giants and CEOs of companies like AddThis, Dropbox, Craigslist and Tumblr, among others, are promoting a "virtual march for immigration reform." The effort, born from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Partnership for a New American Economy coalition, is recruiting participants and will mobilize them via Twitter, Facebook and other social platforms in the spring.
"The beauty of a virtual march ... is that we can use this time to be most effective when a bill is moving. There will be hundreds of thousands of people who come to our site, where we can tweet or post on the wall of a senator," said Jeremy Robbins, a director of the coalition.
Elizabeth Hyman, VP-public advocacy at CompTIA, an IT trade association, said she's seeing a number of small companies that "hadn't always been as highly involved in the immigration discussion" that are "trying to share the realities that can help their business."
But proponents of reform must still communicate the economic benefits of raising a cap on H-1B visas, while disseminating any misinterpretations that these high-skilled workers will replace opportunities for American workers. A Kauffman Study, for example, shows that in 2012, engineering and technology startups founded between 2006 and 2012 by immigrants employed 560,000 workers in the U.S.