Yet More Silicon Valley Immigrant Entrepreneurs

April 24, 2012

Mixed vibes of part celebration and part mystification are coursing through the conversations of many Silicon Valley residents following the news of Facebook's acquisition of the popular photo-sharing company Instagram for an astounding $1 billion. Despite the start-up company's infant status at barely one-and-a-half years old, Instagram has grown quickly since the release of its app that allows users to take stylized pictures through the program's filters. The service has over 30 million users, who, according to the company's report, upload an estimated 5 million photos via mobile technologies each day.

But beneath Instagram's success lies another important story of one of its co-founders, Mike Krieger. Krieger is a Brazilian immigrant who moved to California in 2004 on a student F-1 visa to study computer science and cognitive science. Following graduation, he worked for a year on his F-1 visa, most likely also in the Optional Practical Training program, and eventually applied for an H-1B visa as a specialty worker. Krieger has since applied for a U.S. green card, but, as he recalls in a contributory post on the White House blog, the road to obtain legal permanent resident status has not always been a smooth one.

As an immigration attorney in Silicon Valley, I recognize the value of foreign entrepreneurship and innovation in the ever-evolving technology industry. Highly-skilled professional immigrants have helped establish major high-tech companies, opening hundreds of thousands of job opportunities and stimulating the U.S. economy. You may recall that Andy Grove, the former chairman and CEO of Intel, is an immigrant from Hungary; that co-founder of Yahoo Jerry Yang came from Taiwan as a child; or even that Google co-founder Sergey Brin originally hailed from Russia. Krieger is the most recent incarnation of this established line of entrepreneurial spirit that knows no boundaries between foreign and native-born talent.

If anything, Krieger's story is a testament to the importance of creating and expanding immigrant opportunities for highly-skilled foreign workers. The U.S. economy and technological industries can benefit significantly from expanding pathways to entrepreneur visas. The Obama Administration has undertaken some efforts in this direction already. It has added more fields of study that may count toward the science, technology, and math (STEM) category, which allows foreign students with such degrees to work in the U.S. during and after their studies for extended periods. Interestingly, Krieger's degree in Symbolic Systems from Stanford University was recently added as a part of this initiative. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) is also in the process of working with a select number of Entrepreneurs in Residence who will assist the agency in clarifying the immigrant options for foreign entrepreneurs. These initiatives are important steps in the right direction toward attracting the best and the brightest of foreign talent. Going into the future, however, the growth of entrepreneurialism and the recovery of the economy will likely depend on facilitating the green card process for foreign entrepreneurs who have a demonstrated a commitment to investing in the U.S. economy and its workers.

During January's State of the Union of Address, Krieger enjoyed the privilege of sitting besides the First Lady Michelle Obama, whose private box was filled with a number of other great innovators. Krieger's invitation as an honorary guest also coincided with the one year anniversary of the White House initiative called Startup America, which aims to celebrate and encourage high-growth entrepreneurship.

You can watch Krieger's meeting with First Lady Obama Michelle Obama at the White House in the clip below: