By Jennifer Alsever, CNNMoney.com
Many of America’s largest technology firms were launched by immigrants. So why does the US make it so hard for foreign entrepreneurs to do business there?
A 22-year-old Brit’s deportation came from an innocent mistake. When immigration officials pulled him aside during a three-month trip to Silicon Valley last summer, he mentioned he might talk to an attorney about trying to get a visa to stay and build his company there.
Officials deported him. Wheatley now works nights to match U.S. business hours while his American co-founder, Ryan Amos, runs the Mountain View, Calif., company. “I’m completely bummed out about it,” says Wheatley. “It’s something we really shouldn’t have to be dealing with.”
Stories abound of smart, motivated foreigners eager to live here, start a business and create jobs amid the nation’s worst economic recession in decades. But no visa exists specifically for entrepreneurs.
Their contributions could be huge: a quarter of American tech companies — including Google (GOOG, Fortune 500), Yahoo (YHOO, Fortune 500) and Intel (INTL) — have foreign-born founders. In Silicon Valley, half of all technology company founders hail from outside America, according to a study by Vivek Wadhwa, a Harvard researcher and Duke engineering professor. These entrepreneurs typically either came here as children or waited years to get their green cards, Wadhwa says. Today, that backlogged process may take decades. It’s a massive reverse brain drain, as skilled foreigners go elsewhere.