There's lots of bitter wrangling over the H-1B visa. Tech companies say they need more of them and many IT workers see them as a way for companies to drive down their labor costs while harming Ameriocan competitiveness in the process. My stance has always been that while I think the abuse in the program needs to be cleaned up, I do think there is a legitimate need for the visas. I think the annual cap should be a flexible one adjusted to reflect market need.
But I don't think the H-1B does anything to improve America's competitiveness by encouraging smart and ambitious foreign-born folks to settle here. For that, I think we'll need to make it easier for such folks to obtain green cards. With the H-1B, there's just too much uncertainty over long-term career prospects and too much control lies in the hands of sponsoring employers, at least some of which take advantage of H-1B workers because they can.
One thing everyone can agree on right now is the need for more jobs to be created in the United States. This country tends to attract immigrants with an entrepreneurial streak. A 2007 study by researchers from Duke University and University of California-Berkeley found 25 percent of technology and engineering startups in the United States were founded by immigrants. The number was higher in Silicon Valley, where 52 percent of startups had at least one foreign founder. So a push is not surprising for legislation that would modify the existing EB-5 visa to make it easier for foreign-born entrepreneurs with financial patrons to immigrate to the United States
According to eWEEK, the bill requires each entrepreneur to have a sponsoring U.S. venture capital or angel investor who will invest at least $100,000 in the startup, and total funds raised must be at least $250,000 per company. In addition, an immigrant entrepreneur must create five or more jobs (not including his or her children or spouse) within two years, attract an additional $1 million in investment or produce $1 million in revenues to become a legal resident.
I've written about the efforts of Cleveland and other economically ailing U.S. cities to promote foreign investment by being designated EB-5 regions.
Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are lobbying for the the Startup Visa Act of 2010, sponsored by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Richard Lugar, R-Ind. More than 150 VCs from around the country have already endorsed the bill. Venture capitalist Dave McClure, organizer of a recent trip to the Capitol and a former software entrepreneur, calls the legislation "a huge win-win."
Proponents of the Startup Visa Act have also launched a social media campaign to promote it, which is described in this MercuryNews.com story. An anecdote in the story illustrates the need for such a visa. Brad Feld, a Boulder, Colo., entrepreneur and investor who runs a startup mentoring program called TechStars says he found that founders in two of the 10 companies accepted into TechStars in 2009 couldn't get visas to stay in the United States, and would likely go elsewhere to launch their companies. In a blog post, Feld wrote:
I cannot come up with a single reason why this makes any sense from a U.S. perspective. They are in the final process of raising their first rounds of financing. Post-financing they will be creating U.S.-based high-tech jobs. If they are successful, they will create a lot of jobs.
The MercuryNews.com's Chris O'Brien calls passing the bill "a no-brainer" and adds:
Even in the tortured politics of immigration, it's hard to imagine all but the most hard-core anti-immigrant activists opposing a bill that costs no money, takes no jobs away from people in the U.S., and rewards people who want to create jobs here.