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SILICON VALLEY: Americans Aren't Skilled Enough To Do The Jobs We Need

mark zuckerberg, disrupt 2012,
mark zuckerberg, disrupt 2012,

Max Morse / Getty Images

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg jumped into the center of the immigration debate Thursday with the launch of a new lobbying group aimed at fixing the country's "strange immigration policy."

"We have a strange immigration policy for a nation of immigrants," Zuckerberg wrote in a Washington Post op-ed announcing his new group, FWD.us . "And it’s a policy unfit for today’s world."

FWD.us has offices in Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C., and is led by entrepreneurial and technology stars, along with political operatives from both left and right. More than 30 high-profile names in Silicon Valley are backing the initiative, including LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, Marissa Mayer of Yahoo!, and Eric Schmidt of Google.

The group will call on lawmakers to adopt a new approach to the immigration issue for the "knowledge economy," asking them to offer talented immigrants a path to citizenship, specifically by streamlining the H-1B visa process. Zuckerberg also calls for a greater focus in science, technology, engineering, and math — an area in which the U.S. has fallen further behind.

And in a nod to Republicans, Zuckerberg also calls for securing the border before offering undocumented workers a path to citizenship.

Here's his group's five-point plan:

  1. Secure the border

  2. Streamline the H-1B visa process and allowing talented guest workers to stay

  3. Develop better employment verification

  4. Provide a pathway to citizenship for immigrants currently residing in the U.S. illegally

  5. Reform the legal immigration system

Aside from the changes FWD.us wants to the H-1B visas, the plan is not that far off from the four-point immigration reform plan offered by President Obama in January.

One big supporter is Max Levchin, who co-founded PayPal seven years after immigrating to the U.S. in 1991.

"America is a nation of immigrants and I am exhibit A in that book," says Levchin in a short video on the site, "and stifling that, or reducing the inflow of brainpower into this country seems, simply upside down."

In addition to Zuckerberg, FWD.us founders include: Aditya Agarwal (Dropbox), Jim Breyer (Accel Partners), Matt Cohler (Benchmark), Ron Conway (SV Angel), John Doerr(Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers), Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn), Drew Houston (Dropbox),Chamath Palihapitiya (The Social+Capital Partnership), Ruchi Sanghvi (Dropbox) and FWD.us President Joe Green.

Major contributors include Brian Chesky (Airbnb), Chris Cox (Facebook), Paul Graham (Y Combinator), Reed Hastings (Netflix), Chad Hurley (AVOS/YouTube) Josh James (Domo/Omniture), Max Levchin (PayPal/Yelp), Joe Lonsdale (Palantir), Andrew Mason(Groupon), Marissa Mayer (Yahoo), Mary Meeker (Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers), Dave Morin (Path), Elon Musk (Tesla/SpaceX), Hadi Partovi ( Code.org ), Alison Pincus (One Kings Lane), Mark Pincus (Zynga), Keith Rabois (Khosla Ventures), Hosain Rahman (Jawbone), David Sacks (Yammer), Eric Schmidt (Google), Kevin Systrom(Instagram), Padmasree Warrior (Cisco), and Fred Wilson (Union Square Ventures).

This latest campaign continues other recent efforts out of the Valley. More than 100 tech executives — including those from Google, eBay and Microsoftsent a letter to President Obama, pushing for Congress to raise the cap on the number of foreigners allowed to enter the country annually. They support a start-up visa , which would make it easier for entrepreneurs to enter the country.

Right now, most skilled immigrant professionals have an H1-B visa , which requires workers to remain with their sponsoring employer for a minimum of three years. Without a change of status from a work visa to permanent resident status, the only way to change jobs during this period is if another company agrees to take over sponsorship — and that's an expensive and complicated process.

Here's a chart showing our system for awarding permanent status annually:

immigration permanent resident status

Migration Policy

Ultimately, the problem in Silicon Valley points to a much larger one, which is that Americans aren't skilled enough to do the jobs we need.

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