Renewed Interest in the Startup Visa

Every once in a while, we write about the ups and downs of the H-1B visa, which enables US companies to hire foreign workers for certain types of jobs (engineering positions are usually the most relevant for the high-tech industry).

But, the other day, while I was browsing The Wall Street Journal, my wheels started spinning when I read a story about a foreign-born software executive who came to the US with a J-2 visa associated with his wife's academic research exchange program. He founded a company in San Francisco in 2010, now employs 15 people, and was rejected for an H-1B visa. Really? A guy who's creating legitimate high-tech jobs can't stay in the US because of a problem with a stamp in his passport?

The plus side is that the executive is trying to get an E-2 visa. Have you heard about this kind of visa? I hadn't, but was glad to learn about it. At first glance, it looks as if it could not only help high-tech companies and foreign-born entrepreneurs: I think, if it's handled well, it could be the wide-scale jumpstart America needs to get out its unemployment slump. At the very least, it could empower immigrants — many of whom got visas to study at American universities and nurture their entrepreneurial spirits — to remain here and build their businesses in the US, thus slowing the brain drain of smart, risk-taking entrepreneurs who are stuck in immigration limbo and may be forced to take their brilliant ideas out of the US and back to their home countries.

The E-2 visa, commonly referred to as the “startup visa,” would be for investors from countries that have a treaty to do business with the US, have invested a substantial amount in a company, and are in the country to “develop and direct” that business, according to the WSJ article cited above. Lately, more high-tech and corporate leaders and advocacy groups are urging Congress to pass the Startup Act 2.0 bill, a piece of legislation introduced by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) and co-sponsored by a bipartisan group, including senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Marco Rubio (R-FL).

The updated bill calls for immigration law changes, including the addition of a new visa that permits foreign-born entrepreneurs to stay legally in the US, “if they can raise $100,000 in capital and hire at least two American workers during their first year holding the visa,” the newspaper said. There would be 75,000 of these entrepreneurial visas available, if the bill passes, and they would include startups in any industry, not just high-tech.

A separate part of the bill would also allow up to 50,000 US-educated foreigners with a Master's or Doctorate in a science-, technology-, or math-related field to remain in the US, according to CNET.

Although the bill was stalled in committee during the run-up to the recent elections, the Obama administration seems to back it, or at least it did about 11 months ago, according to this post. We'll see how far along it moves during Obama's second term. I, for one, have my fingers crossed that it passes.

Why? Well, because, besides the fact that the US symbol of liberty — Lady Liberty — tells the world, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” it makes sense for the US to find a way to keep educated, talented entrepreneurs and investors stateside. Also, the bail-out of already well established companies has not proven to be a job-creation engine, as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman points out. And, as the Kauffman Foundation found, companies less than five years old accounted for nearly all new job creation between 1980 and 2005 (Data here sourced from bill sponsor Sen. Moran's website.)

And, seriously, how many road-repair or transportation-related construction jobs feasibly can be created when budgets of many towns and states and the federal government are being sliced to the bare bones? Those strategies worked in the Great Depression, but times have changed. Solutions for some of the Great Recession's most pressing problems (such as unemployment or under-employment) need to be rooted in ways that make sense in 2012 and support a global, free market — from which Americans will benefit. Perhaps supporting entrepreneurs is one way to do that.

10 comments on “Renewed Interest in the Startup Visa

  1. Barbara Jorgensen
    December 4, 2012

    I still get the feeling there is a strong anti-immigrant sentiment in th US. Many people don't differentiate between entrepreneurs that will invest in the US and those that may enter without documentation. Anyone willing to build a business should be welcome.

    December 4, 2012

    I wonder if one borrowed $100k from someone and hired 2 part time low paid staff would that be enough to secure a US visa ?  If so then I am not too sure about the E2.

    December 4, 2012

    USA should look at the visa system employed in Australia.  It seems quite reasonable in that if one can show you fill a needed job and if one has a decent amount of savings so as not to be a complete burden on the state then a visa is there for the taking.

  4. _hm
    December 4, 2012

    @Flyingscot: I concur with you for both points. Also, if you take many job away from USA and create few in USA, does not qualify you for VISA. It is inrticate matter.


  5. prabhakar_deosthali
    December 5, 2012

    Whether it is the VISA RULES  or any other govt rule or law in any country, it is implemented as something simple to start with and with amendments thereon gets so complicated and it creates so many loop holes and misinterpretations that the true purpose of the rule or the law gets defeated and only the lawyers get benefited .

    Something similar is happening to the  US visa rules. The opportunists find ways to go around the rules and get the visa they want whereas the genuine people are rejected visa on some technical grounds.

    If US really wants productive people work in USA without sacrificing the jobs of the eligible locals then it needs to revamp all these procedures to bring clarity among all concerned .


  6. Wale Bakare
    December 5, 2012

    >>genuine people are rejected visa on some technical grounds<<

    That problem is not only to US visa but few other countries. I bet you it's a kind of closing your eyes to allow good intention minded applicants not accepted as a result of too stricter regulations on the selection process.

  7. Jennifer Baljko
    December 7, 2012

    Barbara – Sad isn't it? We dod real some of that in Europe, too. Share the samesentiment with you – if people are willing to open business, pay their share of taxes and hire locals, immigration rules should help — not hurt –people who want to contribute to the local society.

  8. Jennifer Baljko
    December 7, 2012

    FlyingScot – Right, there are many models out there that could work. Australia is an interesting one, although I thought they changed some of their immigration laws recently, but it's been a while since I've looked into it. To your previous comment, don't borrowing $100K from a friend would be enough; I imagine the entrepreneur would actually have to provide a business plan, apply for a business license. And, who knows if it will be all a sham anyway. Then again look at the some of dot-com companies that won all sort of VC money, were considered “legitimate” and they completely imploded in a smoke-and-mirrors nutshell game… 

  9. Jennifer Baljko
    December 7, 2012

    Prabhakar: Yes, you're so right. Visa issues are SOOOOO complicated, and I think it's deliberately set up that way. It's designed to make people get frustrated, break persistance/determination, and stop the pursuit of a visa… either that or you have to be clever enough to find a loophole that works to your advanantage. What I often consider is if the visa was simplier and people who were actually do go for whatever country they emigrated to gave documents faster, couldn't there be equally simple laws and enforcement to ensure they pay into the system as a quickly as possible. 

  10. Ariella
    December 7, 2012

    @Jennifer rather like the tax codes we have.

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