Land of Opportunity: Obama touts Instagram, other start-ups as immigration successes

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

In President Barack Obama’s speech today urging strong action on immigration reform, start-ups played a prominent role. Locally, talented entrepreneurs have said they feel held back when they want to build businesses in their adopted home.

Talking Points Memo reported that Obama touted Intel and Instagram as two success stories of what can happen when foreign-born entrepreneurs find a welcoming environment here in the States.

Early and influential Intel chief executive Andrew Grove was born in Budapest, and came to America to finish his education and escape from Communist control.

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Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger is Brazilian, and moved to California in 2004 to study at Stanford University.

But not all stories have ended so well.

Jay Meattle’s start-up, Shareaholic, had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in investment and passed 100 million users.

But in 2010, as Scott Kirsner reported, Citizen and Immigration Services denied an extension to his work visa, so Meattle went back to India, building a development team in New Delhi instead of locally.

“It’s not hard to find other entrepreneurs who would prefer to build companies in Massachusetts, but are doing so instead in Israel, France, Canada, or elsewhere because they can’t get visas,” Kirsner wrote. Both candidates agreed something must be done, and now Obama is pushing for his vision of reforms.

Those proposals include what he calls a “start-up visa” for job-creating entrepreneurs, a streamlined green card process for graduates with higher education, and electronic verification of immigration status, making it harder for businesses to flout the rules with undocumented laborers.

But given how long these debates have been raging — Kirsner highlighted some sensible proposals in 2010 — it might be a long fight before the next Shareaholic can flourish here freely.

What do you think of the immigration proposals? Will they spur new jobs, or are there problems that the administration is overlooking? Let me know at