Despite the study’s findings, immigrant entrepreneurs still face a slew of visa challenges that make it difficult for them to start and build companies.
When Sara Itucas was a young girl, she watched her family navigate the perilous and notoriously bureaucratic U.S. immigration system.
Itucas and her family came to the U.S. from the Philippines when she was 5, and from a young age she saw how convoluted the immigration process was.
“Watching my mom go through the immigration process was really stressful for our whole family,” Itucas said. “It was so complicated, and we didn’t speak English that well.”
When Itucas grew up, she decided to do something to make the process easier. She and Todd Haines founded LegalPad, a startup meant to simplify the visa application process.
“I wanted to give other people that opportunity I had,” Itucas told NBC News. “LegalPad aims to simplify the process and educate people so they are more empowered to help themselves.”
Itucas is far from the only immigrant founder of a venture capital-backed startup in the U.S. A 2016 report by the National Foundation for American Policy said that immigrants had founded more than half of America’s startups valued at or over $1 billion.
More recently, a working paper from researchers at George Mason University released this month said that immigrant-owned firms in the tech industry had “uniformly higher rates of innovation” than firms run by U.S. citizens in 15 of the 16 measures they surveyed.
John S. Earle, a professor at the university’s Schar School of Policy and Government and one of the authors of the paper, said he believed that the study was the first of its kind.
“There have been studies of immigration and self-employment, and there has been a little bit of research that looks at size of firms owned by immigrants,” Earle said. “Ours is the first study that I’m aware of to look at the innovativeness of immigrant entrepreneurs.”
Earle said that most research on immigrants in the workplace has focused on the impact immigrants have on American workers, and that such research has “generally failed” to find any negative effects. This new study builds on that previous research.
“It appears that immigrant entrepreneurs are not replacing Americans,” Earle said. “Instead, they are creating something new.”
Tech companies and executives have been vocal about immigration issues, particularly since Trump took office. In 2018, the Information Technology Industry Council, which labels itself the “global voice of the tech sector,” called for immigration reform and an end to family separations at the border. The CEOs of many tech giants, including Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, called for an end to the separation policy, and many cited personal donations they had made to immigrant rights groups.