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AOL Founder Case: Immigration Key to Innovation in US

At the EmTech event, Steve Case said that unless the United States reforms its immigration laws, the country risks losing innovation to other nations.

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CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—One of the key challenges facing the tech industry in the United States is the issue of immigration, according to Steve Case, co-founder of AOL and current chairman and CEO of the Revolution venture capital fund.

Speaking during the EmTech 2013 event on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) here Oct. 10, Case said the U.S. government’s immigration policies are making it more difficult to attract talented people from other countries to come here and work. As a result, the United States is risking its position as the top country for innovation, he said.

“What’s most important is winning what is now a global competition for talent,” Case said.

Some 10 years ago, 52 percent of Silicon Valley companies were being run by people from other countries, he said. Now that number is down to 42 percent, which is an indication that talented citizens from elsewhere are going to other countries, where it’s easier to live and find a job. Canada, Case said, has billboards in Silicon Valley encouraging foreigners to move north from the United States, where the immigration laws are more favorable.

The loss of foreign talent will end up being a loss to the United States.

“Innovation is crucial to making a strong economy, a strong community, a strong nation,” Case said.

Immigration reform has become one of a number of wedge issues in Congress, where the Republican-controlled House of Representatives is doing little to act on a bill passed by the Senate and its Democratic majority in June. Case said he hoped that once the current debate over funding the government and increasing the debt ceiling passes, Congress will return its attention to immigration reform.

U.S. leaders shouldn’t be complacent about the issue, he said. Should the country lose its innovation edge, it wouldn’t be the first time that the U.S. economy suffered because of a lack of action.

“Fifty years ago, no one would predict that the U.S. would lose its leadership in manufacturing, but we did,” Case said. “We were asleep at the wheel.”