FWD.us and effect on US Immigration Reform; A Review

Who is FWD.us?

FWD.us (that's "Forward Us") may not be a household name but its founder is. Mark Zuckerberg who is also one of the founders of Facebook started the immigration reform lobby group in 2013 along with a team of tech company insiders which includes a veritable who's who of Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Dropbox.

What do they stand for?

FWD.us advocates:

  • Establishing a streamlined process for "admitting future workers"
  • Allowing entry of more skilled workers by increasing the quota of H-1B visas
  • Developing a simple and effective employment-verification system
  • Creating a pathway to citizenship for the estimated eleven million immigrants currently living in the United States that do not have legal status
  • Securing the border by providing law-enforcement the necessary tools

How will they achieve immigration reform?

The current FWD.us website contains many videos telling stories of immigration making a difference in the United States. Zuckerberg knows the power of storytelling and himself opened an op-ed to launch FWD.us with the personal recollection of a student explaining an uncertain future due to immigrant status. The stories are very real and are meant to connect with a public of a country of immigrants. This resonates.

Making the most of their IT pedigree there's a FWD.us app #Selfies4Reform which allows users to take selfies and send their own messages about immigration reform. These will also be printed off by FWD.us and sent to politicians.

Controversies over immigration reform campaign

Other methods to promote immigration reform haven't resonated quite so well with the public: such as FWD.us using its financial clout to fund advertising to promote potentially damaging environmental projects. Backing for oil drilling in the Alaskan wildlife refuge and the Keystone XL oil pipeline has been in exchange for concessions from politicians. Nor has it resonated too well with its own members with Tesla founder Elon Musk and Yammer creator David Sacks being two of a number of high profile business leaders to quit amid concerns over green ethical issues.

What does FWD.us really want?

When you drill down into FWD.us's very broad objects the specific issue of H-1B visas stands out. H-1B is a non-immigrant visa in the United States. It allows U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations. It's an often prickly issue and there is debate over numbers — with the U.S. Economic Policy Institute (EPI) and Microsoft trading statistics. The EPI says that the country is already producing 50 percent more IT professionals each year than are being employed in the field while Microsoft argue that there are many more jobs than they can fill and actually they have better first-hand knowledge of the situation anyway.

What's FWD.us achieved so far?

In the first year it released figures showing it drove 33,500 calls to Congress with a total of 125,000 actions including social media. Not a bad result, but this is a group with tens of millions of dollars at its disposal. Expectations were higher; Joe Green, the president of FWD.us resigned. Some have also been critical of Mark Zuckerberg for not clearly articulating the vision of the group. Josh Miller, founder and CEO of Branch Media said: "One gets the sense that you are approaching FWD.us in the same way venture capitalists invest in start-ups. You put money and support behind a smart team tackling massive problems, with the faith that they will figure out the details along the way. However, that lack of introspection is ultimately harmful in the world of public policy."

To reform or not reform?

FWD:us is certainly correct: immigration reform is desperately needed. There is some irony that a country built by immigrants currently has an illegal immigrant population estimated to be around 12 million.

It is no longer a question of if the immigration system should be reformed, but when and how much. Politicians should listen to lobby groups such as FWD:us, however the people who need to be listened to are those who live the stories on the FWD.us website. Not just the success stories, but the illegal immigrants who are unable to gain legal residence, the H-1B workers looking for a green card. These are the people who can and will create jobs and build the U.S. economy given the opportunity and freedom to do so.