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Steve Case: Fixing America's High-Skilled Immigration System

Andrew Rich | The Agency Collection | Getty Images

In late May, thousands of American-educated immigrants walked across stages at our most acclaimed universities to receive advanced diplomas in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Many of these distinguished men and women will carry the acquired knowledge, skill-set, and professional relationships to start businesses, secure innovative patents, and contribute to the economic vitality of their communities.

Only, those communities will be in countries like China, South Korea, and Canada — not here in the United States.

Instead of creating American jobs and spurring the next wave of Googles , Apples , and Fords in this country, these promising grads will leave our shores to set up competitor businesses in competitor nations.

The United States used to pride itself on attracting and keeping the ablest high-skilled immigrants from around the world.

In fact, more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies in the United States were founded by immigrants or their children, employing more than 10 million workers.

Iconic American brands such as IBM, Goldman Sachs and AT&T were founded or co-founded by immigrants.

But today, arbitrary immigration caps are forcing almost 20,000 American-educated degree holders to leave our country every year.

That's a problem as it relates to economic competitiveness because the data is clear: these ambitious, high-skilled immigrants create more jobs, more patents, and more companies than Americans who are born here. Of the top 50 venture backed companies in the United States, almost half had at least one immigrant founder. A quarter of new science and tech firms are started by immigrants.

If we were to equip a generation of soldiers, sailors, and airmen at West Point, the Naval Academy, and the Air Force Academy with world-class leadership and battlefield skills, then send them off to join the militaries of other countries — our citizens would object. Yet, that's what we are doing when it comes to the thousands of future entrepreneurs and innovators who train here, then set up shop abroad.

Just as our immigration policies have prevented a whole generation of American-based ingenuity in recent years, so too has there been a narrowing of our entrepreneurial advantages relative to the rest of the world. Startups were down almost a quarter between 2007 and 2011, and new startups are adding fewer jobs on average than in previous decades. Initial public offeringsare down too, further depressing the typical job-creation acceleration that follows IPOs. Meanwhile, other countries, including Germany, Australia, and Canada, are strengthening their own entrepreneurial ecosystems by attracting financial and human capital.

There are numerous ways to reverse these troubling trends, including expanding access to capital, reorienting tax incentives to reward long-term investments in startups, improving our K-12 education system, and streamlining the commercialization process at universities.

The bipartisan JOBS Act passed in April was a positive step forward on many of these issues. But a sure way to strengthen America's economic competitiveness is to fix our high-skilled immigration system. If we don't act swiftly, and enact reasonable policy reforms like the Startup Act 2.0, we run the risk of losing the global battle for talent to competitor nations.

Steve Case is the Chairman and CEO of Revolution LLC; Mr. Case was also the co-founder and CEO of America Online.

Join CNBC’s Brian Sullivan, small business owners, and some of America’s greatest entrepreneurs as they share their stories and strategies for success. Getting Back To Business: A CNBC Town Hall Event premieres Wednesday, June 20 at 9 p.m. and will be rebroadcast at 12 a.m. ET on CNBC.

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