Varun Negandhi always intended to one day join the ranks of the US’ great immigrant tech-startup founders.
But seven years into his career as a mechanical engineer in Detroit’s legendary auto industry, he found out his work visa prevented him from starting up a company of his own. And applications for permanent residency, by way of the famed “green card,” were in a queue lasting as long as a decade.
He started to look for a new country in which to settle his family that had friendlier visa terms — and found one very close to home.
“Being in Detroit and being on the border of US and Canada, I saw friends moving to Canada while working on an H-1B with their companies,” he said. “Then it started to click that I can go to Canada, work with my company, but also have the freedom to start something on the side.”
Negandhi’s story epitomizes a trend that should trouble America and its storied tech industry. Foreign-born workers are increasingly going to countries including Canada, the United Kingdom, Singapore, and Australia, where they’re freer to find a job or start their own company without having to deal with America’s immigration system, which many consider nightmarish and outdated.
As those tech workers look for greener pastures, that means America isn’t getting the talent it desperately needs to keep up with China, India, and other countries, whose own tech sectors are blossoming into formidable rivals to Silicon Valley.
Without change, and fast, experts say this could mean an entire lost generation of tech talent for American tech.