Startup Visa Bill Introduced in U.S. Senate

Last year I read an interesting essay (Founders Visa) by Paul Graham that suggested a new visa class be created for technology startup founders. Evidence has shown that a significant number of successful technology companies in the U.S. were founded by immigrants and so a more elegant system needs to be designed to not only attract but retain these entrepreneurs in the country. That sentiment has since picked up steam.

Senators John Kerry and Dick Lugar have introduced a Startup Visa Bill in Congress that “will allow an immigrant entrepreneur to receive a two year visa if he or she can show that a qualified U.S. investor is willing to dedicate a significant sum – a minimum of $250,000 – to the immigrant’s startup venture”.

The StartUp Visa Act of 2010 would amend immigration law to create a new EB-6 category for immigrant entrepreneurs, drawing from existing visas under the EB-5 category, which permits foreign nationals who invest at least $1 million into the U.S., and thereby create ten jobs, to obtain a green card.

After proving that he or she has secured initial investment capital and if, after two years, the immigrant entrepreneur can show that he or she has generated at least five full-time jobs in the United States, attracted $1 million in additional investment capital or achieved $1 million in revenue, then he or she would receive permanent legal resident status.

Conventionally, some American citizens have objected to hiring foreign workers as it is assumed, and sometimes rightly so, that they take away jobs from citizens. This is perhaps the most prominent criticism of the H1b visa class. But like Paul suggested in his essay, and is implied in this Bill, foreigners granted these new visas would only be allowed to work for the companies that they found – not existing ones. This is simply a one-way new job creation engine.

The downside: that required $250,000 investment. Securing this is no small feat, but with a great product and some luck, heck it’s doable. So for most that means the startup needs to have existed for some time and probably taken seed funding to get off the ground, and now secured second-stage funding. (For an elaborate description of how funding works, see How to Fund a Startup).

The upside is that it shows immigration advocates that there’s not only high visibility in Congress for this age-old issue and recognition of the significant contribution immigrant technology entrepreneurs play in driving economic growth, but also that they’re ready to push the issue in a bipartisan fashion. Now is probably as good a political climate as in so many years to get such a Bill passed. Lately though, some Congressmen have been really flaky on bipartisanship, for instance the 7 Republican deserters of the proposed legislation to create the Debt Reduction Commission that were actually cosponsors of the Bill! Hopefully that won’t happen here.

For now, I applaud the great strides and hope the Bill is enacted.

Startup Visa Act of 2010
Press Release from Senator Lugar on Startup Visa Act