U.S., UK Move to Ease Entry for Foreign Tech Startups

Ann All

I've written a few times about the Startup Visa Act, a proposed law that would grant temporary work visas to foreign entrepreneurs who are able to obtain certain types of financing and make visas permanent for those who create jobs, most recently sharing ideas from Vivek Wadhwa, director of research at Duke University's Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization, on how the bill could be improved.

 

As Wadhwa writes on his blog, bill co-sponsor Richard Lugar (R-Ind) tweaked the Startup Visa Act, incorporating some of Wadhwa's suggestions. Key points of the newly revised proposal:

  • Entrepreneurs living outside the U.S. can receive a visa if a U.S. investor agrees to financially sponsor their entrepreneurial venture with a minimum investment of $100,000. Within two years, the startup must create five new American jobs and either have raised over $500,000 in financing or be generating more than $500,000 in yearly revenue.
  • Workers on an H-1B visa, or graduates from U.S. universities in science, technology, engineering, mathematics or computer science can receive a visa if they have an annual income of at least $30,000 or assets of at least $60,000 and have had a U.S. investor commit investment of at least $20,000 in their venture. Within two years, the startup must create three new American jobs and either have raised over $100,000 in financing or be generating more than $100,000 in yearly revenue.
  • Foreign entrepreneurs whose business has generated at least $100,000 in sales from the U.S. can also receive a visa. Two years later, the startup must have created three new American jobs and either have raised over $100,000 in financing or be generating more than $100,000 in yearly revenue.

 

As Wadhwa points out, investors must be qualified venture capitalists, "super angels" (U.S. citizens who have made at least two equity investments of at least $50,000 every year for the previous three years) or a qualified government entity.

 

Wadhwa is especially happy about the opportunity for foreign students and workers who are already in the U.S. to qualify for a visa, calling the requirements for them "very reasonable." He has long expressed concern that the U.S. is educating some very bright foreigners at its universities who then return to their home countries to launch business ventures because they find U.S. immigration policies too restrictive.

 

Wadhwa writes:

This version of the bill will, I expect, encourage tens of thousands of workers trapped in "immigration limbo", and foreign students who would otherwise return home after graduation, to try their hands at entrepreneurship. Many of these people would not otherwise have considered entrepreneurship; they will now have the incentive to take the risk.

Writing on Business Insider, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry says he likes the provision that rewards foreign entrepreneurs whose business has generated at least $100,000 in sales from the U.S. because it "frees the entrepreneur from being at the mercy of a VC, and broadens the universe of entrepreneurs who can apply."

 

The UK just introduced new rules that similarly reward foreign entrepreneurs able to attract investment dollars by making it easier to live and work in the UK. According to TechCrunch Europe, the rules will allow "high-potential" entrepreneurs to enter the UK if they have 50,000 (U.S. $80,600) in funding from a reputable organization. The item calls it "ridiculously good news" for startups interested in starting a technology business in the UK and UK startups that want to hire talent they can't get in the UK.

 

The rules will also permit high-growth entrepreneurs to enter the UK on a "visitor visa" in order to line up funding and make plans for starting their business before they transfer to a full Tier 1 (entrepreneur) visa. Apparently startups with businesses in slower-growing sectors (NOT tech) will still need 200,000 (U.S. $322,800) in funding to qualify for the visa.

 

Unlike the U.S. Startup Visa Act, the UK rules do not require entrepreneurs to create new UK jobs.

 

As I wrote back in 2008, the UK has been tweaking its policies for some time to make education and previous wages the primary requirements for new immigrants.



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