Startup Act 2.0 Receives Bipartisan Support in Congress

There are not many aspects of the immigration debate that Democrats and Republicans seem to agree on. Across issues of border enforcement, amnesty, and immigrant rights, infighting and animosity seem like more fitting descriptions of their relationship than collaboration and mutual respect. It is consequently significant that, amid the general atmosphere of dissension in party politics, legislative efforts to facilitate the immigration of foreign entrepreneurs and innovators have obtained support from a handful of Democratic and Republican Senators alike. Recently introduced by Republican Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Democratic Senators Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.), Startup Act 2.0 would expand incentives for U.S.-educated, highly-skilled immigrants to remain in the U.S., as well create new visa opportunities for immigrant entrepreneurs.

Specifically, the Act would create new employment visas for up to 50,000 foreign nationals who graduate from a U.S. university with a MA or PhD in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) field. These beneficiaries would hold conditional status upon remaining in employment in a STEM field for five consecutive years, after which they would become eligible to apply for a green card. The Act would also create 75,000 new visa opportunities for immigrant entrepreneurs on H-1B visas or who have finished graduate work in a STEM field, and who, within one year of the receipt of the visa, open a new business with a valuation of at least $100,000 that employs at least two full-time, non-family employees. Most significantly, the passage of the Act would eliminate the per-country numerical limitations for employment-based immigrant visas, as well as adjust the limitations on family-based visa petitions from 7% to 15% per country. This could have a large impact on immigrant workers especially from countries like China and India, who face particularly long waiting periods for visas.

Startup Act 2.0 is one of at least eight other bills that seek to promote job creation and stimulate the U.S. economy through the streamlining of the process for obtaining specialty business visas for foreign high-skilled workers with backgrounds in STEM fields. As an immigration lawyer in the Silicon Valley, I recognize the importance of these bills in attracting foreign talent to contribute to the growth of the U.S. economy. Indeed, the evidence makes clear that immigrant specialty workers have played a crucial role in this country's economic development.

A study conducted by researchers at Duke University and the University of California Berkeley revealed that more than a quarter of high-tech companies founded in the U.S. between 1995 and 2005 had at least one founder who was an immigrant. The proportion of foreign-born entrepreneurs in the Silicon Valley was even greater at 52%. The creation of startups is not only important in strengthening the U.S. economy, but they also lead to new job opportunities in the U.S. According to figures produced by the Kauffman foundation, startup companies less than five years old accounted for nearly all new net job creation between 1980 and 2005. Startups also account for nearly three million jobs created per year.

These new legislative measures currently in discussion in Congress will hopefully lead to reform of an outdated immigration system that has prevented many valuable foreign workers from contributing their talents and innovations to the U.S. The passage of these bills will likely face many challenges along the way, but the fact that they have mobilized bipartisan support in Congress is a promising sign that they will eventually come into fruition.

H-1B Visas, Immigration Reform, Work Visas / by Michelle Gee