For years dozens of Silicon Valley’s brightest and most highly respected entrepreneurs like Paul Graham, Brad Feld, Reid Hoffman, and Eric Reis have been trying to convince Congress and the White House for the urgent need of a “start-up visa” that would create a special visa category for foreign entrepreneurs who have raised capital from qualified American investors (There’s even a documentary film on the subject, http://startingupinamerica.com/ ). For three years the issue was buried as a casualty of election politics over ‘outsourcing’ and related issues.
Amazingly enough, a bipartisan Senate bill expected to be introduced this month, aims to get 75,000 new “entrepreneur visas” every year to founders who raise $100,000 for new ventures that hire at least two employees within a year. The bill also would create 50,000 visas per year for foreign students who graduate from U.S. universities with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM). Upon hearing the news, the valley cheered…for five minutes. Because then the boom was quickly lowered.
President Obama and top Senate Democrats have said they are highly supportive of visas for STEM graduates and high-tech entrepreneurs, but are insisting those issues must be tied to package that includes establishing a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants in America illegally.
Last November, the House passed a stand-alone bill that would have given visas to immigrants in high-tech fields. President Obama opposed the bill, and the White House said at the time it “does not support narrowly tailored proposals that do not meet the president’s long-term objectives with respect to comprehensive immigration reform.”
Passing the Start-up Act in many ways is a step towards the America that needs to be re-captured: As the global leader in innovation and technology, that creates hundreds of thousands of well paying jobs in growth oriented fields. The America which is able to compete with emerging markets in Asia and attracts the best talent. The poison pill of linking skilled and unskilled immigration is another step down into the morass, where political expediency and vote-bank politics always trumps the need to solve difficult problems. It’s a poor choice for America that desperately needs jobs and growth.