By Medha Imam
WASHINGTON – A bipartisan bill that aims to expedite entrepreneurship and innovation by creating a new class of immigrant visas is stalled in Congress.
The Startup Act would launch a new program for 75,000 immigrant entrepreneurs who are already in the United States as students and highly skilled professionals on temporary visas.
“At a time when the number of new businesses being created and the rate of entrepreneurship among young Americans has reached historic lows, Congress must get to work to jumpstart the American economy,” said Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, one of the bill’s cosponsors.
The bill, now in its fourth version, is facing opposition because there’s disagreement about whether additional visas are the best way to address immigrant reform.
“We’re not confident that we’re going to moving forward, and it sounds like many other stakeholders want comprehensive immigration reform, which is also incredibly important,” said Anna Duning, program manager at Engine, a research and advocacy organization for technology and entrepreneurship.
One year after acquiring the new visa, individuals would need to register at least one new business that employs full-time employees and raises investments of at least $100,000.
If the initial requirements are fulfilled, the entrepreneur can remain in the U.S. for another three years to conduct business. The bill calls for further checks to continuously measure the progress of the entrepreneur.
Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the bill’s co-sponsor, said it would “ensure the U.S. remains competitive in the global economy.”
Recently endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the bill also seeks to eliminate per-country limitation of the number of employment-based visas issued to immigrants from countries like China or India.
“The Startup Act is just a mess,” said John Miano, founder of the Programmers Guild, a nonprofit that advocates against outsourcing. “The people writing the bill don’t even know what they’re doing.”
The entrepreneur visa complicates the larger debate about the H1-B visa program, which allocates temporary visas to workers in specialty occupations. Dubbed the “tech visa,” the H1-B allows companies to hire foreign-born workers if they can make an argument that there’s no one in the U.S. who could fill those positions.
“There’s absolutely no evidence of a worker shortage in the United States,” Miano said. “There is no study that shows a worker shortage in the U.S. that has not been paid for by industry lobbyists. It doesn’t exist.”
Despite opposition, Moran said he still hopes to push the legislation in the Senate even as a stand-alone bill.
“If Congress fails to act, we risk losing the next generation of great entrepreneurs and the jobs they create to countries that have already taken action to attract and better support these innovators,” Moran said.