O'Sullivan's tech visa initiative is welcome but too narrow
This ignores the fact that it is not just first-generation immigrants who innovate. Regularly it is their children who create companies and jobs – children such as Yahoo! founder Jerry Yang, whose parents were economic migrants.
“Few of the immigrant entrepreneurs identified came to the US ready to start a company capable of attracting venture capital . . . Most entered the country either as children, teenagers or graduate students, or were hired on H-1B [non-immigrant] visas to begin a first job while in their mid-20s,” the NVCA study said.
O’Sullivan’s proposal also flies in the face of the Irish experience in the US, where Irish emigrants from diverse backgrounds created companies and jobs over the decades, as did their children. It also ignores surveys that show many immigrants to Ireland are highly skilled people – many of them graduates or professionals – shunted into service work, unable to realise their potential.
Prioritising the highly skilled also doesn’t fit with another one of the top three goals highlighted by Open Ireland: doubling Ireland’s population. Setting aside the principal issue of whether this is a feasible or good idea (and I think it is bizarre), restrictive immigration policies will stymie that from the start.
We would need an extraordinary growth engine to create jobs for all those people – a magic recipe no one else appears to have discovered yet, not even the tech immigrant entrepreneurs in the US, who have created about 400,000 jobs, including overseas jobs, according to the NVCA report. We need people of all abilities, as well as a renewed focus on reskilling our unemployed.
Open Ireland also recommends a singular focus on China. Clearly, great opportunities would come from deeper and broader relationships with China – in Silicon Valley, Chinese founders are second only to Indians.
Yet a study published last December by the US National Foundation for American Policy noted the most common country for an immigrant founder in the top 50 venture-backed US companies was India, followed by Israel, Canada, Iran and New Zealand. Not one came from China.
I don’t think we should be prioritising any one international relationship. Let’s put energy instead into making Ireland attractive and accessible to all nationalities. Let’s not make the mistake of assuming people with skills needed by one sector are more desirable than the diverse talent available from a broad and truly open immigration policy.