Ep. 327 – Immigration’s Importance for the Innovation Economy with Dave Brown, founder of Brown Immigration

Ep. 327 – Immigration’s Importance for the Innovation Economy with Dave Brown, founder of Brown Immigration

On this week’s episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Dave Brown, founder and managing partner at Brown Immigration. Dave and I talk about the innovation economy and the importance of immigration, and the impact immigration policy has on its success. Let’s get started.

Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast to help new innovators navigate what’s next. Each week we’ll give you a front row seat into what it takes to learn, grow, and thrive in today’s world of accelerating change and uncertainty. Join us as we explore, engage, and experiment with the best and the brightest innovators. entrepreneurs and pioneering businesses.

Podcast Transcript with Dave Brown, founder and managing partner at Brown Immigration

Brian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I’m your host, Brian Ardinger, and as always, we have another amazing guest. Today we have Dave Brown. He’s the founder and managing partner at Brown Immigration, where he works closely with emerging companies, VCs, and private equities to solve immigration challenges. So welcome to the show, Dave.

Dave Brown, Brown ImmigrationDave Brown: Thanks for having me, Brian. Great to be here.

Brian Ardinger: Dave, we’ve known each other as friends and poker players for a while, but I wanted to have you on the show, because we’ve occasionally had these conversations about how does the law fit into innovation and specifically the law that you focus on, which is the immigration law. Let’s start by giving a little bit of background of the things that you work on.

Dave Brown: Of course I’m happy to share. You know, the interesting thing about me, I think that draws a lot of the clients we work with is I’m originally from Canada. I was actually a lawyer sitting in Toronto doing a lot of inbound US immigration for startups, companies, founders, and found a special someone who’s a US citizen. She was getting a PhD at Stanford.

So, I made a decision since I was supporting all these clients and companies in the Bay Area. That I’d actually moved to the US and so I came here at the end of 2000 and spent about five years in the Bay Area supporting a lot of founders’ companies there before finding myself moving to the Midwest here where my wife originally came from.

But the through point in all of this is that I’ve been dealing with a lot of individuals over the years who have started companies in a wide variety of tech spaces, and there are a lot of interesting people I’ve worked with over the years.

Brown ImmigrationBrian Ardinger: Obviously immigration, you hear it in the news, and I think there’s a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings what, what immigration is and how does it play into the tech space and that. So, tell us a little bit about the messaging that is out there in the media about immigration and what are the different nuances around that?

Dave Brown: Yeah, I guess I would say that the messaging is just wrong to start with. It’s unfortunate, and I think that this narrative has been kind of fostered as immigrants or the other, that they’re bad, that there’s some negative element associated with bringing people into this country. Which is amazing to me because this country is completely founded on immigration and this country, quite frankly, wouldn’t exist without immigration in the way it does today.

So, the, the current media blitz is bad, and the thing quite frankly, I’m concerned about is it impacts a lot of what we do. You know, when I run into someone, people always seem to think that I’m dealing with someone at the border. That’s someone who’s trying to sneak in and take someone’s job. And the reality is, is we’re all about innovation, right?

You know, the people you talk to in this space, they’re all about creating something new, creating something that didn’t exist before. When I think about my own journey, I’ve got a firm with about 50 employees that wouldn’t otherwise potentially be employed in this space if I didn’t immigrate to this country and decide I wanted to start the firm.

And every day I deal with people who have decided to come to the US to make that choice. And they’re kind of fearless. You know, they’ve already made that choice. They’re just going to uproot their family and come to the US. They’re comfortable with the idea that they’re going to start a company that may never make any money, that may never go the direction they hope it will go.

But they’re kind of fearless and they’re willing to do that. And that’s really what we need. And if you look at the history of this country, this country’s been founded by immigrants who have made that step and, and really pushed in that direction.

Brian Ardinger: If you think about in a lot of the big companies that we think about, Google and others, were founded by those who immigrated here to the United States. Let’s talk and unpack a little bit about the visa policies. I think we hear, you know, words like green cards and H1B visas and that. Maybe tell us a little bit about what’s the visa policy in the United States now, and how do people get here?

Dave Brown: The first thing I would say is the visa policy is woefully inadequate for the size of our economy right now. Most of the laws that we deal with and interpret and use to support our clients have been in existence for four or five decades, some even longer than that. And, and at that point, our economy was less than a fifth of the size of our current economy. Our population was about a hundred million less. And so, we really need to revamp our immigration rules.

Really, the legislation itself. But obviously what my job is, is to try and get the best result for someone despite what the challenges may be. And so, there’s still tools in the toolbox. We still find a way to make things work. And definitely if we’re dealing with someone who’s very highly regarded in their particular field, very highly educated, that does open up options for things like the O1 visa, that’s a visa for someone who’s an alien of extraordinary ability.

And I will say that the thing that we’ve seen more recently, because it, you can look at what happened under the four years under the prior administration and kind of juxtapose it against this current administration. There were a lot of kind of things that were put in the system four years ago that didn’t really make any sense.

That made things harder for people to come in and to maintain status. And we, we had people, quite frankly, who we filed to extend their status. And they were denied on the extension when there was a longstanding policy that if there’s no material change and the government had already made a decision that this visa is appropriate, that they shouldn’t suddenly say no to an extension of that same visa.

And so, when Biden came back into office, he reinitiated that policy. So, we don’t have those kind of weird disconnects when we extend. That’s just one example of the changes.

Brian Ardinger: In a case like that, so, so let’s say a person comes to the United States to get a degree, wants to stay on as working in AI or working in the tech sector and such, what does that process look like?

Dave Brown: So, most people who come and get a degree, they have an ability to get a work permit immediately following their degree program. And if they’re in a recognized STEM program, science, technology, engineering, or math, they’re eligible for an additional two-year extension of that one-year work permit. So, a lot of the folks we deal with in the tech sector are dealing with a three-year work permit after they graduate.

I will say though, that a vast majority of those folks, probably, you know, 65 to 70% of those individuals graduating from our universities are from India or China. And so, when we’re dealing with a population from India or China, it takes a minimum of six years to get a green card in that cohort. And I’m talking about Chinese nationals, not Indian nationals.

Indian nationals, minimum of eight to 10 years if you’re at the highest level, graduating from a US school. And so, you can do the math right there. You’ve got a three-year work permit after you graduate, it’s not enough time to get a green card. Right? Right. So those individuals need to transition from that temporary status of F1 with a work permit to a longer-term status, which is an H1B.

The interesting thing about, again, how all these are old kind of antiquated policies. The H1B gives you a maximum time limit of six years in this country. Most of the visa statuses have some sort of maximum to them as well, and as a result, people time out. The H1B, they made a change about 20 years ago where they allowed you to extend past six years as long as you’re in a green card process and you meet certain conditions.

And so that has become really the visa of choice because if you run out of time on some of these other visa classifications, you’ve got to switch to the H. Otherwise, you’re not in the US long enough to get your green card, and I will say that not everyone shows up here thinking they want to be here permanently.

They, you know, they often show up and decide they want to work and try this job, or they show up and they want to go to school. And after they’ve been in school and, and really made friends and really enjoyed the community, they decide they want to stay and we don’t want to lose that innovation, you know, similar to Nebraska recently allowing for people with really high, is it either SAT or ACT scores, they’re going to give you a full ride to UNL. We want to do the same thing. If people are going to be educated at our schools, we want to keep them here so they can innovate and stay.

Brian Ardinger: Especially if you spent time and money and effort training those people up and getting them engulfed in your culture and you’re helping build the company, you want to maintain that investment that you’ve made in those people as well.

Dave Brown: I totally agree. I think that investment is key. I think from a company perspective too, and this is what I hear from CEOs and HR professionals. In some of the key areas that we’re dealing with, you may look at candidates for jobs, and you may find that almost 50% of those candidates in a master’s or a PhD program are foreign students.

And if we’re losing half of those people and they’re going back home in critical areas like AI or biotechnology, that’s a real hit to our economy. We’re educating them here, we’re giving them that information, and then they’re going home and creating a new economy based on the education here. It doesn’t seem right.

Brian Ardinger: I’ve seen some statistics where, you know, Canada for example, is much more open to bringing immigrants in, especially for tech jobs and things like that. So, it seems to be a kind of a shift to some extent. Can you talk about some of the differences that you’re seeing between countries and, and how that might be playing out?

Dave Brown: You know, none of these things exist in a vacuum. Right? And so, we did see a period where obviously we went through the Covid pandemic and, and just prior to the Covid pandemic, the Trump administration, it had really kind of ratcheted things down, made certain visa classifications harder to get.

There was one particular classification, the international entrepreneur parole. It was an opportunity for someone who was a founder who received funding to get a parole document and allow the opportunity to work. It was something that was created in the Obama administration.

They’d finally put regulations in, literally as Obama was leaving the White House, but then Trump tried to pull those regulations out, tried to stop that from moving forward till there was actually a court action that stopped that. And basically, told the administration, no, this is an actual program that was properly created. You need to enforce it and allow it. And so, something that was created in 2016, quite frankly, it still doesn’t work now.

The Biden administration tried to revive it, that it’s not properly staffed. And so, this is one of these things that on paper, it looked amazing to support founders coming in and it could support anyone who just graduated from school who wants to start a company, but it doesn’t work. We filed these cases, we’ve not yet gotten an approval on a single case, some of which have been pending more than a year, if you can imagine. And there’s no chance of paying for what’s called premium processing to get a result in 15 days, which is normal for other visa classifications.

You know, people who are coming in and founding these companies, they really want to, you know, have an opportunity to get a visa that allows them to continue to work, contribute. And when we’re dealing with a country like Canada in particular, they saw this happening, right? They saw this happening with the Trump administration. They saw this happening with Covid. They saw an opportunity to really increase the number of foreign students going to their schools. And if you talk to anyone in the educational field, foreign students pay full tuition and it’s rare that they get a lot of financial breaks or incentives.

They help underwrite a lot of our university programs by paying full tuition. It’s the same way in Canada. It’s the same way in the UK. And so a lot of these countries realized as these students are not seeing opportunities when they graduate because H1B is quota driven and not everyone gets an H1B and, and everyone hears a story every year around the time we’re dealing with H1B filings of people who run out of time and have to leave.

So that story doesn’t sound good. And people go then to Canada, knowing that at the end of a master’s program or PhD, they can get a three-year work permit. It’s not a one year and then a two year. If you’re in stem, it’s a three-year work permit. And during three years, that’s plenty of time to become a permanent resident.

And the Canadian system allows you to self-sponsor. So, if you’re educated enough, have enough experience, you have a job offer, you can become a permanent resident without having to have an employer sponsor you like we have in our system. You know, we obviously file Canadian applications. I’m licensed in Canada as well, but it’s a much more open and different feeling application than how difficult and troubling some of our US applications are.

I’ve read some accounts and, and obviously heard this from clients. People sometimes feel like, you know, they’re under suspicion that there’s a real question about, you know, are they doing the right thing? And I get it, people commit fraud every day against the US government in every agency. But unfortunately to some extent, we’ve let the fraud concern kind of dictate how we treat people. on the immigration side of things. And it’s rarely the case that we’re dealing with fraud in my experience.

Brian Ardinger: So maybe let’s talk about maybe some war stories or some specific examples that you can go into about how this has played out.

Dave Brown: I will say the thing that really gets me up in the morning and gets me excited is helping people who are trying to create something new or do something different, and one of the people I remember is someone who’s a good friend of mine.

I filed his green card application over 20 years ago at this point, but he was a guy who didn’t finish university, grew up in Mexico, basically in a slum, and started networking TVs together, doing all of these things. He was working at a restaurant as a server and then created their ability to access credit cards and rewire the entire restaurant. And he started being the IT guy while he was a server at this restaurant when he was a teenager.

And fast forward to him coming to the US, he ended up sitting on the DVD International Standards Board when they were trying to decide should it be a Blu-ray, or should it be H-D-D-V-D?

He was running two of the different international standards boards with. Panasonic and Sony and all the major players involved, and he’s setting global standards. A guy who never finished college, a guy who grew up in slum in Mexico. And the craziest thing about this guy is he created something that was the most efficient DVD player that no one has ever heard about.

And in creating it, the company realized that they were going to be acquired by at least two major competitors if they ever unveiled it and then just picked apart for the IP. So, the CEO sat him down and said, you know what? We’re going to shut up about this now and we’re going to shelve this product. and he was livid.

He was so upset because he’d created this in 90 days when all the major manufacturers had never figured this out, and he debuted it to them. And then that’s what caused this firestorm in people calling the CEO about buying the company. But on the strength of everything he had done, we were able to argue, this guy’s extraordinary.

He had a number of different patents. He had a number of different publications in these international tribunal, committee meetings and things like that. So, we got him his green card. His kids are in college at the universities here in the US. One of them is pursuing a master’s degree. One of them is a drama student at a college, and he’s living the dream and contributing, which I think is amazing.

Brian Ardinger: That’s the end goal, right?

Dave Brown: At the end of the day, the things this person has done to move us forward. And I will say he’s one of these, you know, everyone follows Elon Musk because of how unusual and different he is. This guy’s different, right? But in a good way. And it’s interesting the things he comes up with in the angles he comes from in creating things.

I think about someone we’ve supported more recently, as well. And they’re in the climate change field really geothermal. They’ve got an award-winning podcast. They’re a PhD. They founded a company. They’re at this point just raised their seed and basically the VC went to them and said, you know, we want to support you as much as we can, but in order to raise the kind of money we need to accelerate your development as a company, we really need the stability of you being a permanent resident.

We don’t want to go on this dog and pony show and show this company to other VCs that we want to partner with unless we know we’ve got the stability of having you because it’s your idea, it’s your IP that’s driving this. And so, we took her from an F1, which is normally just a simple non-immigrant student visa to getting our I140 approved as an extraordinary ability alien.

And so that was recently approved. We’ve now filed her adjustment. She’ll be a permanent resident before the end of the year. She’ll have funding series A before the end of the year and have that launchpad she needs to move forward and build her company.

Brian Ardinger: That’s awesome. The last question I want to talk about is what are some trends that you’re seeing and what are you excited about?

Dave Brown: I’m excited about a lot of things. And I will say one of the big trends is that the Biden White House came out with an executive order last October. It’s an executive order that’s aimed at AI and emerging and critical technologies. And when it was reported initially in the news, I thought it was all about AI, right?

There are so many changes in so many things that are going on all the time that it takes a minute to catch up. But I read it a few days after it came out and I realized it includes 19 different critical and emerging technologies, and only one of them is AI. And it also in the three pages of about a 34-page executive order, the three pages related to visas basically charges our US government agencies, department of State, department of Homeland Security, including U-S-C-I-S and CBP with ways to figure out how to make the system quicker, simpler, easier for anyone working in these 19 critical and emerging technology areas.

And this includes FinTech, this includes server technology, this includes robotics, you know, biotechnology. There’s a lot of areas of innovation that are really key and important, and so we’re finding that we’re able to get people moving in the direction of their green card quicker.

So that’s really exciting. The problem is there’s still a big line now that’s been developed for the green card because we’ve got an artificial barrier. We’ve got a quota. The quota is 140,000 new immigrants through employment-based means in a given fiscal year. Whereas the Canadian system, to your point earlier, is allowing it about 400,000 in a similar system per year.

A country that’s a 10th. Our size is really going at about three times almost, or two and a half times what we’re allowing in, which is crazy to me. That 140,000 number has been around for five decades. They’ve not changed it, and so we’re able to move people quicker into the line, so they’ll hopefully get out of the line quicker because of this new change, we really still need true immigration reform at the house and Senate level.

But I’m really excited about some of the new opportunities we’ve seen to move people forward a little bit quicker and to, you know, on the, on the same level file more, O1s, these extraordinary people in these critical and emerging technology fields. We’ve got more of an opportunity to get them visas and bring them in and have them contribute to what’s going on.

Brian Ardinger: Well, Dave, this has been fascinating subject. Thank you very much for coming on Inside Outside Innovation to give us an update on what’s going on and look forward to keeping us updated.

Dave Brown: Always happy to have a conversation. Thanks Brian.

Brian Ardinger: That’s it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out InsideOutside.io or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.


Get the latest episodes of the Inside Outside Innovation podcast, in addition to thought leadership in the form of blogs, innovation resources, videos, and invitations to exclusive events. SUBSCRIBE HERE.  You can also search every Inside Outside Innovation Podcast by Topic and Company.

For more innovations resources, check out IO’s Innovation Article Database, Innovation Tools Database, Innovation Book Database, and Innovation Video Database.  Amazon Affiliate links for books. Transcripts done through Descript Affiliate.

Share Episode

The Feed

Episode 327

Ep. 327 – Immigration...