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[VIDEO] Why Mark Zuckerberg & Ron Conway are Attracting Immigrants to Silicon Valley

Facebook investor and SV Angel founder Ron Conway isn't used to founder calls at 2 PM on a Sundays... unless there's a fire to put out. But Mark Zuckerberg was insistent: he wanted to talk about immigration, and it couldn't wait until Monday.

That weekend, Mark was settling into the team's new Palo Alto office by volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club next door to Facebook headquarters. After a typical day of service, he connected with the kids: "which one of you here is planning on going to college," he asked.

Almost all the hands went up – but not all.

Himself a Harvard dropout, Mark dug deeper: why didn't these kids put up their hands?

"It's because we're illegal immigrants here, we can't possibly go to college."

So begins the story of the founding of one of the most respected immigration advocacy groups in the United States, Fwd.us, following a phone call between Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and renowned Silicon Valley angel investor Ron Conway - right after an afternoon at the Boys and Girls Club of Palo Alto.

Founder and investor Ron Conway join Derek Andersen at the Startup Grind Global Conference to talk about the economic and social impact of America's broken immigration system.


Watch Ron Conway's full immigration interview, and catch our highlights below.


How Fwd.us Started: One Afternoon at the Boys & Girls Club

Mark was driven: denying these obviously smart children an education was an injustice, and the culprit was our immigration system. While the United States is indeed a country built by immigrants - from the very first British subjects to the now 40% of Fortune 500 firms founded by immigrants and their children - very little productive work has been done in the area of immigration reform over the last 25 years.

Need to see a little proof? Here's how the supply and demand of the H1B visa - the preferred working document for out-of-country employees coming to the United States - has changed over time:

Chart courtesy of Quartz

Only a few months after Mark Zuckerberg's call with Ron Conway, Fwd.us was created, counting among its backers some of the most successful technologists in the world, including Bill Gates of Microsoft, Drew Houston of Dropbox, Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn, and Sean Parker of Napster & Facebook.

The Missions of FWD.us, According to Conway

First, securing startup Green Cards for entrepreneurs that want to build their companies in the US.

Second, granting opportunities to secure a green card to every US college graduate that originally came to study as an immigrant.

Third, raising the stagnant H1B visa cap.

Last, creating a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants in America today.

So how'd the initiative proposed by FWD.us do in the nation's formal political bodies? Not so well.

Though publicity following the announcement of the group and the launch of a public proposal nearly broke the internet, the actual bill passed only the Senate before being blocked in the House of Representatives.

Not deterred, FWD.us is back to movement building, focusing on grassroots level campaigns and meetups rather than going after a top-down approach through media. Popular support will be the most important component of the group's eventual success, poses Conway, as FWD.us plans its next move for a time when the United States returns to a more receptive environment for immigration legislation.

Maybe when the party line on immigration being celebrated isn't one like, “[Mexico] is laughing at us, at our stupidity. Now they’re beating us economically. They are not our friend," from politicians like Donald Trump.

The United States needs Immigrants - Here's Why

Supply versus Demand: The US needs over 30,000 engineers a year, but is only able to educate ~9,000. In order to stay competitive, there’s a need to keep innovation happening locally.

Immigrants are Job Creators: Immigrants start 28% of the startups in the US while accounting for only 13% of the population. They have a disproportionate effect on starting companies even accounting for the less than ideal visa/immigration processes.

Incubating Global Ideas: The US critically needs innovation and growth to maintain stability. The time of large-scale Bell Labs and NASA-funded government innovation is over. Innovation will come primarily from startups and we all have a moral obligation to help create more startups.


There’s likely to be a lot of debate on immigration in the upcoming years. There’s a lot of pent up energy on the subject from all sides of US society, and today's political climate have placed the issue front and center. While the debate rages, though, keep your eyes on that one Silicon Valley founder who was inspired by an afternoon at his local Boys & Girls Club - and is now shaping the national debate.

Learn more at Fwd.us or get involved with a Boys & Girls Club in your area here.