O'Sullivan's tech visa initiative is welcome but too narrow
NET RESULTS:Don’t bother with – even exclude – people who might be coming in to fill only service or other less skilled jobs, writes KARLIN LILLINGTON
OPEN IRELAND, initiated in April by entrepreneur (and current Dragons’ Den dragon on RTÉ) Seán O’Sullivan, has some laudable and important aims.
Among them are to change Ireland’s visa system to create a “tech visa” that would make it easier to bring in highly skilled workers for the technology sector; to encourage foreign entrepreneurship; and to give foreign students who come into Irish universities the ability to remain here easily, to work and perhaps eventually found companies.
Overhauling the visa process to provide needed skills and to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship is not a new idea. Many technology companies and entrepreneurs have raised these issues over the years. All of these aims were key suggestions of the last government’s Innovation Ireland Taskforce, highlighted in its report early in 2010.
I’ve argued for these changes in several columns for this newspaper, the first dating to 2006. But few seem to listen, and if Open Ireland can focus Government minds on Ireland’s cumbersome visa system, more power to it.
A responsive, enabling visa system would be a major competitive advantage. The evidence is indisputable. Several studies in the US have highlighted how important immigrants are to innovation and the economy. For example, more than half of Silicon Valley companies have at least one foreign-born founder.
According to a 2007 study by the National Venture Capital Association, one in four US venture-backed companies founded since 1990 has had at least one immigrant founder. Almost half of those founders arrived as students, not as adults or skilled graduates looking to fill jobs.
This point meshes with an argument made at the recent Euroscience Open Forum conference in Dublin by Burton Lee, an engineering lecturer at Stanford University and a member of the innovation taskforce. He noted that the majority of new companies coming out of US universities are founded by students, not academics or researchers. Enabling students to come to Ireland to study and then stay therefore makes solid sense.
What doesn’t make sense to me, though, is the argument O’Sullivan put forward last weekend that this visa policy should be half-open. Don’t bother with – even exclude – people who might be coming in to fill only service or other less skilled jobs. The Government should focus on “high-value economic immigrants” (oddly also identified as those who are “English-speaking” – after all, Silicon Valley companies regularly take in people with poor English skills).