Zoe Lofgren, D-California, introduced H.R. 4681, the Let Immigrants Kickstart Employment Act, July 26, a measure that would provide a start-up visa to immigrant entrepreneurs.
Unlike many other countries, the U.S. does not have a visa category for immigrant entrepreneurs. Lofgren’s bill would provide a three-year visa to foreign entrepreneurs who own at least 10 percent of a U.S. company, and play a central and active role in its management.
Foreign entrepreneurs who raise at least $250,000 in qualifying investments from one or more qualified investors, or $100,000 in qualifying U.S. government awards or grants, would also be eligible for a start-up visa. The visa can be renewed for an additional three years if the start-up raises another $500,000 from U.S. investors, or creates at least five jobs.
Spouses and minor children would also receive the same visa, and spouses would immediately be granted work authorization.
The visa would provide a path to legal permanent residence if certain financial benchmarks and growth indicators are met by the start-up company.
Lofgren, who represents portions of the Silicon Valley and chairs the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, said in a statement introducing the measure: “For the world’s best and brightest innovators seeking a home for their companies, America used to be the top destination. Sadly, that has changed.”
“Today, the technology sector in Canada is growing at a faster pace than it is in America, and it is almost entirely because of restrictive U.S. immigration policies that do not benefit our economic interests. Congress can change that.”
“We can make the United States more prosperous by passing bills like the LIKE Act that stimulate the economy, curb brain drain, create jobs for American workers, and restore our country’s standing as the number one choice for the next-generation of entrepreneurs worldwide,” stated Lofgren.
The congresswoman noted that start-up companies create an average of three million net new jobs per year, more than four times as many jobs as mature companies, and that high-skilled immigrants are fueling the next generation of high growth companies.
On July 13, the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship held a hearing titled, “Oh, Canada! How Outdated U.S. Immigration Policies Push Top Talent to Other Countries.”
Indian American venture capitalist Vish Mishra, venture director at Clearstone Venture Partners, has been a long-time supporter of a start-up visa program for immigrant entrepreneurs. In 2016, during the last year of former President Barack Obama’s tenure, the administration created the International Entrepreneur Rule, which allowed the Department of Homeland Security to grant “parole” to an entrepreneur for up to 30 months, if they provided a significant public benefit. In the immigration context, “parole” means temporary permission to be in the United States. The rule was not a start-up visa, as only Congress can create new categories of visas.
Mishra told India-West that he and The IndUS Entrepreneurs hosted a program at the India Community Center in Milpitas, California, inviting people to learn about the International Entrepreneur Rule.
Former President Donald Trump’s administration attempted to suspend the rule, but a court order allowed the program to continue, though there were few applicants. President Joe Biden’s administration revived the rule May 10.
Mishra heartily expressed his support for Lofgren’s bill, noting that immigrant-led start-ups have a multiplier effect for the U.S. economy, in that they create jobs and wages for American workers. “The impact will be immense,” he told India-West, noting the large number of companies founded by immigrants or children of immigrants.
Indian immigrants represent a fraction of the overall U.S. population, but are over-represented in the start-up world. “The valuation of their companies are in trillions of dollars,” he said.
The National Venture Capital Association submitted testimony during the July 13 hearing supporting a start-up visa. “The failure to create a start-up visa is the most prominent example of how immigration policy pushes talent to other countries,” wrote Bobby Franklin, president and CEO of NVCA.
The organization noted that, under current law, “foreign-born entrepreneurs must fit ‘square pegs in round holes’ by using visas that are not built with the entrepreneurial model in mind. This leaves many foreign-born entrepreneurs behind and pushes them away to the welcome arms of countries that roll out the red carpet for entrepreneurs.”
NVCA noted that at least 25 other countries have some version of a start-up visa.
“A start-up visa will allow the United States to continue to be a global technology leader and the preferred location to launch a new business in an increasingly competitive global economic landscape. Without a Start-up Visa, the United States will fall behind in the global competition,” stated the organization.