Attempts by Congress to reform U.S. immigration policy have proven controversial in recent years. Many businessmen and women in Texas and Mexico, however, say they feel meaningful immigration reform could help international ventures to grow on both sides of the border. FWD.us is an organization started by technology community leaders to promote policies, mainly comprehensive immigration and education reform, to help keep the United States competitive in a global economy. The Texas chapter of FWD.us hosted a panel discussion May 21 in downtown, “San Antonio Innovates: How Latinos Drive the Tech Economy.” There, select Latino tech community experts said San Antonio and Texas are in a prime position to drive the expansion of their business sector over the next few decades. According to the Texas chapter of FWD.tx, 24.9 percent of all Texas business owners were foreign-born in 2010. That’s higher than the national average of 18 percent. New immigrant business owners in 2010 accounted for $10 billion in total net business income.
Hundreds of startups from Mexico want to come into the United States and one local company is hoping to incentivize these startups to expand northward. The downtown-based collaborative, Geekdom, is working with competition-based social innovation platform, HeroX, to administrate the San Antonio Mx Challenge. This is a cross-border tech entrepreneurship designed to transform San Antonio into a global tech ecosystem by awarding $500,000 to the individual, team or organization that develops and implements a repeatable model to help Mexican tech firms to open active offices locally
“The MX Challenge is meant to incentivize Mexican start-ups to start up in San Antonio. Why Mexico? It’s the second largest economy in Latin America, and expected to be the sixth biggest in the world by 2050,” said panel discussion moderator Jesús Salas, a project manager at Geekdom. The panelists explained that when immigrants arrive in the United States, their focus is essentially to help themselves as best as possible and ensure financial assistance for family back home. Successful immigrant business owners here in the United States employ mostly U.S. citizens, but are eager to further their commercial potential with help from skilled workers still based across the border. They have many obstacles to face.
According to FWD.tx, H-1b high-skilled visa requests in the Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos area in 2010-2011 were tallied at 3,087. FWD.tx added that 75.6 percent of those H-1B visa-holders worked in science/tech/engineering/math occupations. Local employers that constantly express a need for H-1B high-skilled workers include Dell, Intel, and the University of Texas at Austin. Only 85,000 H-1B high-skilled worker visas are available each fiscal year. The annual quota will be met within the first week of April, five business days after the filing period opens. The panelists added that many companies in Mexico and other Latin American countries are interested in expanding their ventures in San Antonio and across Texas. These same Latin American firms also wish to take advantage of the current opportunities in this region, such as the rising number of oil fields in South Texas. The panelists said San Antonio is in a prime position to be a hub for cross-border enterprises, feeling it’s more culturally diverse than other major Texas cities. “There’s a really strong presence in the idea that San Antonio is half American, half Mexican. Many startups are interested in coming here. We have to show San Antonio is a tech ecosystem that’s Mexican friendly,” Salas said.