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Immigrant-Founded Startups Surge

As the debate over H-1Bs and immigration reform rages on, consider this: A third of the venture-backed companies that went public between 2006 and 2012 had at least one immigrant among its founders, according to a survey by the National Venture Capital Association. That’s up from 7 percent before 1980.

Some of the more notable companies that went public post-2006 include Facebook (Brazilian co-founder Eduardo Saverin) and LinkedIn (French co-founder Jean-Luc Vaillant).

“As Congress debates comprehensive immigration reform, understanding the contributions of high-skilled, foreign born entrepreneurs to our country is imperative to ensuring meaningful changes to our system,” opined Mark Heesen, NVCA president, in a statement. U.S. employers, especially those in the tech industry, frequently complain there are not enough skilled IT workers to fill their needs, making H-1B workers critical to their operations. Opponents of the program counter that plenty of tech talent is available in the U.S., but companies don’t want to spend the money to train them on in-demand technologies, and see guest worker programs as a way to lower costs.

One thing that’s certain is the cards are stacked against H-1Bs who want to start their own companies: Visa holders are tied to their employer and are prohibited from having the company they wish to create sponsor their visa. In other words, they can’t sponsor themselves via the company they’re building. Meanwhile, 90 percent of survey participants, both Americans and foreign nationals, believe a startup visa category would aid the U.S. economy.

Immigrant-founded, venture-based companies currently employ approximately 600,000 workers worldwide. As of June 2013, the total market capitalization of startups with at least one immigrant founder stood at $900 billion.

Image: Katharina M/Shutterstock.com

About Dawn Kawamoto

Dawn Kawamoto is the associate editor of Dice. She is an award-winning technology and business reporter, previously working for such publications as CNET's News.com where she reported on a wide range of sectors from enterprise software to mobile computing to Internet darlings and the funding that fueled their growth. In 2002, she was a Gerald Loeb Awards finalist for coverage on Oracle's sales practices.