It may soon be easier for foreign startup entrepreneurs to set up shop in the United States thanks to immigration reform which would create a specialized startup visa program.
The proposed program would make more visas available to entrepreneurs who have at least $250,000 in funding from a U.S.-based venture capital firm, or $100,000 in angel funding. The startup must also have plans to either create five new jobs every two years, raise at least $1 million every two years, or generate at least $1 million in revenue.
The current system grants 10,000 visas each year primarily to investors that have financed over $1 million with plans to create at least 10 full-time positions. It also allows lower benchmarks for investors in less wealthy countries.
However, the new requirements - which are part of a bill proposed by Colorado Congressman Jared Polis (above) - would fall far beneath the current benchmarks, making it easier for smaller companies and those from underprivileged countries to create jobs in America.
In some cases, inspired entrepreneurs enter the U.S., but after their ideas flourish and their visas run out they are in danger of being forced to go home to start their businesses. Investor, entrepreneur and co-founder of Foundry Group, Brad Feld experienced this first-hand at the TechStars program in Boulder, Colorado this summer as two of the ten groups had foreign founders.
"Over the summer we struggled to figure out ways to get them Visas - all of the proposed approaches were expensive, risky, and tiresome," Feld says. "Both companies are still trying, but each are now seriously considering returning to their home countries to build their businesses."
Along with other entrepreneurs, start-up advisors and venture capital investors, Feld has co-founded StartupVisa.com, a homepage Feld says has been a resource for the movement inspired by Paul Graham's vision. "In the next few months, we'll be expanding it aggressively to incorporate grass roots support and feedback," he told ReadWriteWeb.
One of StartupVisa's contributors, Manu Kumar, helps spread the word about visa reform by recounting his own struggles. "There were multiple points at which I came very close to having to leave the United States because of the visa issues," says Kumar.
As the country attempts to pull itself out of one of the largest recessions in history, it only seems logical to make it as easy as possible for foreign entrepreneurs to enter the country and create jobs for Americans.
"I think this would have such a visible effect on the economy that it would make the legislator who introduced the bill famous," says Graham. "The only way to know for sure would be to try it, and that would cost practically nothing.