Start-Ups

Condoleezza Rice calls for more H-1B visas, says 'human potential' is next great resource

Condoleezza Rice keynoted the NVCA 2014 VentureScape conference in San Francisco and spoke candidly about H-1B visas, Edward Snowden, and US tech innovation.

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Condoleezza Rice chats with VentureScape Chairman Venky Ganesan.
Image: Conner Forrest/TechRepublic

On Wednesday at the 2014 VentureScape conference in San Francisco, former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke about tapping the human potential that is necessary for our "great march toward a better future." Rice likened human potential to a country's resources or its imports and exports, and said that the US has had a better track record at mobilizing this potential than any other country in the world.

Rice's keynote at the NVCA-sponsored event focused on how comprehensive immigration reform was necessary to continue the growth of the American economy.

"Forty percent of the startups in this area have one foreign founder. That says something about the power of attracting the best and brightest. And, I just don't get it when people want to make immigrants, somehow, the enemy," Rice said.

Immigration reform and globalization have long been issues of contention in startup hotspots like Boston, New York, and Silicon Valley. Earlier this year Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates urged Washington to consider comprehensive immigration reform to help continue the innovation that has come from new companies in these areas.

"One of the undervalued elements of a great democracy is that a democracy is not just held up by its governmental institutions, it's also held up by a large private [sector]," Rice said.

When asked about what the specific next steps should be, Rice called for open season on H-1B visas for anyone who wants one. The H-1B visa is one of the standard work visas that employers use to bring workers from other countries to the US for specialty work.

Some of what Rice said echoed some of her thoughts she shared earlier at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, stating that greatness comes from "mobilizing human potential and ambition." She noted that while people do immigrate from developing countries in search of a living wage, they also do so in search of opportunities in innovation.

"And they have come here from advanced societies as engineers and scientists that fuel the knowledge-based revolution in the Silicon Valley of California, in the Research Triangle of North Carolina, along Route 128 in Massachusetts, in Austin, Texas, and across this great land. We must continue to welcome the world's most ambitious people to be a part of us," Rice said at the convention in 2012. "In that way, we stay young and optimistic and determined. We need immigration laws that protect our borders, meet our economic needs, and yet show that we are a compassionate nation of immigrants."

After her keynote address at VentureScape on Wednesday, Rice sat down to chat with VentureScape chairman Venky Ganesan to further discuss her views on foreign policy and take questions from the audience. Ganesan asked her about her recent appointment to the board of directors for enterprise cloud company Dropbox on April 9, 2014.

Rice explained that she knew and trusted the company's leadership and was excited about the road ahead, although she did not address the controversy around the appointment. Dropbox faced criticism over the appointment of Rice due to her past support of the NSA wiretapping program. Rice was appointed by Dropbox for her understanding of globalization. Drew Houston, Dropbox CEO, said her presence would help the company "expand our global footprint."

Rice was also asked about her thoughts on Edward Snowden's leak of classified documents about controversial NSA surveillance programs. Rice maintained composure, but didn't back down from her stance on the subject, asserting that she believes that Snowden is no hero and is a traitor to the US.

Interestingly, she did not disagree that there was a potential need for an overhaul of certain NSA programs. Her main point of argument was that Snowden didn't follow protocol on reporting the information, and she called his choice of asylum in "Putin's Russia" questionable.

Overall, the address was positive and forward-looking, but Rice anchored her vision with candor and realism.

"There's a lot of work to do but, I'm an optimist," Rice said. "I think we'll get it done and we'll find, again, a stable equilibrium."

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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