Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Tim Kaine heard about the importance of immigration reform and access to capital from about 25 tech startups Tuesday afternoon at UberOffices in Rosslyn.
The issues haven't been uncommon in his hard-fought campaign against former Sen. George Allen, a Republican. But they haven't always come up at the same time.
"The connection of immigration reform to the talent economy was a really important theme here today," Kaine later told reporters.
Kaine, who was joined at the office-sharing space by Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, heard story after story about how immigration reform was vital to the tech industry — from startups to giant companies, all of which want as few hurdles as possible when it comes to hiring highly educated, highly skilled foreign workers.
One young entrepreneur said he had friends in the industry who decided to return to their native India after getting an education here because it's much easier to access startup capital there. Students need to be allowed to stay in America longer post-graduation, he said, because startups want to hire them when they are "younger and hungrier."
Coons said he recently talked with the head of a major pharmaceutical company whose top three research and development recruits all decided to return to their home country.
Kaine said such sometimes disparate groups as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the agriculture sector and the Hispanic civil rights advocacy organization La Raza wanted immigration reform, which offered a chance for bipartisanship.
"There's quite a constituency on the left, right and center that believes in the need for immigration reform," he said. "The outcome of November will hopefully create a moment that, 'Oh boy, we should do it.' Knowing the technology industry is behind it… You really start to see the breadth of support."
One of the challenges, Kaine said, was figuring out whether to push through reform piecemeal or as part of a larger comprehensive effort — the latter being harder to win consensus on, but potentially having much more impact.
Coons talked about his work on Startup Act 2.0, which would create new kinds of visas in an attempt to make it easier for American companies to hire immigrants.
Corporate Tax Reform for Research, Development
Coons also talked about the need for research-and-development tax credits to be available to smaller companies, including those that aren't yet profitable. Most of the current tax credits of that kind go to large corporations that enjoy many millions of dollars in sales annually, he said.
"This is all part of a very difficult, broad conversation about corporate tax reform… and we need people like Tim Kaine at the table," he said.
Coons called Kaine "thorough, thoughtful and balanced," and said he is "not an ideologue."
"We need more folks who are able and willing to carry their weight and be a part of the solution, not the problem," he said.
The pair also talked about reforming regulations so that exponential growth is encouraged and rewarded. A company with 10,000 employees is less likely to be able to double or triple in size in a year, for instance, while a startup with 10 people could see such exponential growth.
Raymond Rahbar, who co-founded the 3-month-old UberOffices, said called the discussion "a great event."
"It's important that they were willing to not just talk — they were willing to listen," he said. "That's as important as anything. There's no shortage of politicians who want to talk. There's a shortage of politicians who want to listen."
Co-founder Jason Shrensky added: "It's not just a talking point. They came out here and did it. It's important for the startups to see that."