One hundred years ago America welcomed immigrants from all over the world. These immigrants struggled to learn the language, find work, and adapt to American life. Now Congress is worried that people educated in the US will leave as soon as they have a better offer.

This has led Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar to introduce a bill called the Start-up Visa Act. The Act gives entrepreneurs from other countries the opportunity to come to the US on special visas if they create jobs and a start-up company here.

Requirements of the Act

The Start-Up Visa Act was introduced by Senators Kerry and Lugar this February, so it's too early to tell whether it will pass both houses of Congress. If it's passed into law, the bill grants a US visa to foreigners if they can secure at least $100,000 from a sponsoring investor, or at least $250,000 from a qualified venture capital firm.

They can become a legal resident of the US if they create at least five jobs (not including immediate family members), and get another $1 million in investment, or produce revenues of at least $1 million.

Voices for and against the Act

Strong support of the Act has come from immigrants whose startup companies have skyrocketed to success, such as Google, Yahoo!, LinkedIn eBay, and Intel. All of those firms, and indeed 25 percent of venture-backed, publicly-traded businesses, were founded or co-founded by immigrants, says the National Venture Capital Association.

Investors and venture capitalists support the Act. They note that immigrant entrepreneurs usually can't use their existing visa to start a company here. They often have to leave the country and start their company elsewhere. The American economy then misses out on the chance for new jobs.

There is already a specialized class of visa designed for entrepreneurs, called an EB-5. To get one, you're required to invest at least $1 million in the US and employ 10 people. Another type of specialty visa is the H1B, which is given to a maximum of 65,000 people, and an additional 20,000 people who have advanced degrees.

The loudest voice against the Start-Up Visa Act is from those who claim that these visas would be hard to monitor. Those people also argue that fraud and misleading accounting would be hard to detect. It's also hard to know whether a "fly-by-night" start-up, who employs 10 people but for only 10 days, would be discovered and then the visa suspended.

The International Student Population

One report says that for every one student graduating with a science degree in the US, five graduate in China. Look on the campus of any college around the US and you'll see many international students studying in a variety of fields.

An argument in favor of the Start-Up Visa Act is it encourages foreign students who've established connections in the US to stay and get successful businesses off the ground. This would be preferable than using their knowledge to grow businesses outside the US. Now, limits on how long students can stay are defined by the terms of their student visa.

Whether the Act will pass is unknown. Only about 4 percent of bills introduced actually are passed made law. A Congressman from Colorado, an entrepreneur and the founder of two successful businesses, has introduced a similar visa provision which is part of an immigration reform bill. That may give the Start-Up Visa Act more credibility and acceptance.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • How can I apply for a student visa?
  • How can I apply for an entrepreneur visa?
  • Can my visa be taken away?

Tagged as: Immigration, Green Cards, visa act, startup act