When I was a kid, my mom would take me to McDonald’s on special occasions. Those Happy Meals were a rare treat, and I worked hard to get a good report card or an honor at school just for a visit to the Golden Arches as a reward.
But McDonald’s wasn’t a special trip because my parents were against fast food, or because it was far away. Rather, it was a rarity because eating out at a restaurant was a luxury for my family. And we could only afford that burger and fries once every couple months.
My family immigrated to the United States when I was 5 years old. My father was accepted to the University of Illinois for graduate school to study aeronautical engineering and applied math. So with only a few hundred dollars in our pockets and our whole family behind us, we left our home in China and moved to Champaign, Illinois. After attending school on a student visa, my dad received an H-1B visa to work for the University as a post-doc researcher, and a few years later became an American citizen.
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I feel incredibly fortunate for the opportunities I had as a child. Though my family grew up on federal assistance programs and visiting McDonald’s was a luxury, my parents made education a priority, and I ultimately studied at both UC Berkeley and Stanford University. My favorite courses were in science, technology, and math, and my degree in applied math opened up opportunities across Silicon Valley that led me to meeting my cofounders and ultimately starting DoorDash.
But America is falling behind in STEM education. While science and tech jobs have increased three times faster than jobs in the rest of the economy, American students are not entering these fields quickly enough. As a result, America will face a shortfall of 5 million STEM workers by 2020. And while Silicon Valley tech companies like DoorDash are always looking to recruit American workers, the inability to hire trained engineers, data scientists, statisticians and more would hurt our business and cause us to fall behind the global competition. We need experts in math, science, and engineering, to develop our apps, to analyze data to improve deliveries, and to train our algorithms to make the entire logistics network more efficient. Indeed, the H-1B program helps us to compete with global companies, while making sure we have the brightest minds in the world working on our business.
Highly skilled immigrants have made incredible contributions to the U.S. economy, helping to create even more American jobs. Highly skilled immigrants are increasing the US GDP, spurring innovation, and developing technologies that improve the world. Talent has always been equally dispersed, but access to such talent hasn’t been; the economies that help make the world flatter will serve to benefit in the short and long term.
As the current Administration looks to reform the country’s immigration policies, it’s critical that immigration programs for highly skilled workers support both American workers and employers alike. At the same time, we must keep opportunities open for people looking to come to America to build a better life for them and their families, the same way my parents did when I was a kid. That’s why DoorDash has come out against the executive order restricting travel from seven Muslim majority countries.
To this day, McDonald’s continues to hold a special place in my heart. I can’t say that I started a company that partners with restaurants because of the time I spent at McDonald’s, or because of the time I spent working in my mom’s Chinese restaurant — the first business she worked in after we moved to this country. But my co-founders and I did start DoorDash in order to help everyday people: those who work at restaurants looking to grow their businesses; those who are underemployed and are looking for some flexible, part-time work; and those who are excited about making a difference in their local communities.
Immigrants are an important part of the fabric of America. And we’ll do what we can to continue making America the land of opportunity for everyone.
Tony Xu is CEO and Cofounder DoorDash.