NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Silicon Valley's latest cause celebre is the advocacy for immigration reform. All parties in Washington, D.C. are also advocating immigration reform.The problem is this: What one person means by "immigration reform" is not what the other side means. The people who will actually have to vote on immigration reform mean two very different things. It's a classic case of two sides using one word -- reform -- to mean two different things. Let me illustrate with an analogy. If Ron Paul were to debate Barack Obama about "tax reform" both would claim to be in favor of tax reform. Who wouldn't? But what each of them means by "reform" would be the total opposite of the other. What Ron Paul means by tax "reform" is to abolish taxes and instead fund a constitutional, pre-1913 federal government primarily by voluntary charity or small user fees. What President Obama would mean by tax "reform" is that in principle 100% of all income should be taxed, except for what the government charitably allows you to keep. In other words, as the two parties both profess their strongest support for "reform" they mean the exact opposite of the other. Same thing with immigration reform, mostly.
Almost every famous person in the Silicon Valley food chain -- from CEOs to venture capitalists -- are pushing for "immigration reform." So what do most of them mean by that? Most technology companies want to expand their pool of engineers that they can hire -- here in the U.S. as well as around the world. As it stands it's hard to get a work visa for a foreign worker to move to the U.S., especially from countries such as India and China. A familiar example of how this works is that a graduate of a top U.S. university in computer science either starts a company or takes an engineering job with a Silicon Valley company. However, before long he or she is unable to stay in the U.S., so he or she returns home to China or India to run his or her company or work over there. The U.S. is likely to benefit from a software or hardware engineer settling in the U.S. in order to work or start a company. This person will likely contribute far more in GDP than he or she will be on the public dole. The education is already paid for. This immigrant is the opposite of a welfare case.
This latter part has nothing to do with Silicon Valley and it's where all the contention is. It is why this bill is being blocked in the House of Representatives. In order for Silicon Valley to get what it wants on immigration reform it should insist these two completely different parts of immigration reform get split into two separate bills with two separate votes:
- Work visas for people who have advanced degrees in relevant areas of engineering, or are otherwise well-recognized computer geniuses. Basically, if you graduate in computer science from Stanford University, you get to stay in the U.S. for -- at a minimum -- many, many years. Also, if you bring significant investment capital to the U.S. or are able to attract some minimum level of investment capital, you can get a long-term work (startup) visa. Either way, you will contribute to GDP and employment far more than you drain. Legalization of those who already made it into the U.S. illegally, almost all of whom have little or no education. This bill would be voted upon separately. It has essentially nothing to do with Silicon Valley.