Under today’s immigration policies, Steve Jobs might never have been born.

By Seattle Business Magazine October 6, 2011

An underreported but intriguing part of the Steve Jobs story is that Jobs’ birth father, Abdulfattah Jandalie, was a graduate student who came to the United States from Syria to pursue his studies. This little-known fact was included in a fabulous profile of Jobs by John Markoff of the New York Times.

What Markoff does not point out is that had our current immigration policies been in place at the time, Jandalie would very likely have never received a visa to come to the United States, and Steve Jobs might never have been born (his birth mother was American, and his parents put him up for adoption). The world would have been a poorer place.

In the post 9/11 era, we have created an environment that is hostile not only to muslims, but to immigrants from across the world. In a story on immigration we ran in July, Jennifer Juo, a high-tech community consultant with the Seattle-based immigrant advocacy group OneAmerica, pointed out that not only are fewer talented people coming to the United States because of the difficulty they face in obtaining visas, but those who manage to get student visas to attend graduate school are more likely to return to their home countries after graduation to pursue their careers.

Sure, places like Seattle and Silcon Valley still offer the best environments in which to start new companies. We have great educational institutions, visionary venture capitalists and consumers eager to try the latest innovations. And Steve Jobs’ adoptive parents clearly did a great job raising him, giving him the confidence and independence to emerge as a strong leader.

But it’s also hard to ignore the power that we as a country have long drawn from our rich and diverse population. We risk losing some of that competitive edge when we weaken our ability to attract the best talent in the world. Local companies like Amazon and Microsoft will find it more challenging to remain on the cutting edge if they can’t hire the best programmers and engineers in the world. If we are not careful, the Steve Jobs of the future will increasingly be born and pursue their careers in other areas of the world.

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