Questions on immigration policy and reform often focus on the flow of illegal immigrants over the southwest U.S. border or concerns about unemployment of U.S. citizens. What remains frequently overlooked is why immigration of highly-trained and skilled workers matters to the medical device venture capital industry. My tech partner Deepak Kamra, an immigrant himself before becoming a US citizen, recently testified before the House Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement on the critical role immigration plays in supporting innovation and job creation through the formation of new startups (a full copy of Deepak’s Kamra’s testimony can be found here.) This is nowhere more apparent than in Canaan’s life sciences portfolio, where over 25% of our health care portfolio companies funded since 2000 were founded by immigrants. Hailing from Israel, Turkey, China, Taiwan, Canada and Europe, our founders’ ability to start a company on U.S. soil has thus far resulted in several billion in market value for investors and employees and contributed important new therapies in ophthalmology, oncology and infectious disease.
The U.S. currently has two bottlenecks in the support of residency for an entrepreneur of immigrant status. One bottleneck is in the H-1B visa program, readily used in order to hire into established companies. While acquiring an H-1B Visa is an expensive and time-consuming process, immigrant managerial talent can rely on this process. Many call for more H-1B Visas to be issued so we do not inflict constraints on hiring the best and the brightest which I agree is far more preferable than sending talent back home soon after being trained in our university system.
However, an even bigger challenge arises for company founders, such as my partner Deepak who found himself unable to join a startup due to his inability to acquire a visa – he first had to become an employee of a larger, established company to maintain legal residency. Today, there is a critical need for a StartUp Visa category which specifically enables entrepreneurs of immigrant status to invent, incubate and found medical device companies in the U.S. When you look at the significant percentage of life sciences companies with co-founders of immigrant status, imagining a robust future for medical device innovation with this constituent as active participants appears to be a “must”. Beyond the political posturing, politicians should understand that our most creative industries continue to thrive only with fewer constraints rather than more. Here lies a way for Washington to move beyond excessive regulation and tinkering and set the stage for us to fuel the future of the medical device industry.