Here’s an idea that’s been getting a lot of attention lately: A new U.S. visa just for foreign-born entrepreneurs.

That’s right. Come to America, start a new business, hire people to work for you, and Uncle Sam will give you a green card, just to say thanks. It’s an idea that lawmakers on Capitol Hill are considering, and its legislative incarnation – the StartUp Act – has bipartisan sponsorship from Senators Kerry (D-MA) and Lugar (R-IN).

Proponents of a so-called “startup” or “founders” visa say that giving foreign-born entrepreneurs the opportunity to obtain permanent U.S. residency could help jumpstart a job-starved economy. What’s more, they argue, attracting talent from abroad will help the U.S. remain a dominant economic powerhouse on the global stage for years to come.

The Startup Visa “movement”
The push for an entrepreneur visa began among some of America’s most preeminent venture capitalists – people like Brad Feld, Paul Kedrosky, and Shervin Pishevar just to name a few.

With their support (and some intense lobbying of Congress), the proposal became legislation in both the U.S. House and Senate in 2010. The 2011 Senate bill is a slightly modified version of last year’s legislation with all of the fundamentals of a startup visa intact.

But it still has to come up for a vote. Until then, the bill will remain in committee.

How it works

Assuming lawmakers eventually get around to passing the StartUp Act, here’s how it would work:

  1. A foreign national must secure a minimum of $100,000 from an American venture capitalist.
  2. After two years, the foreign national’s startup must have created at least 5 new jobs and have raised at least $500,000 in additional capital investment.
  3. If the entrepreneur hasn’t raised at least $500,000 in additional investment, he or she must have generated at least $500,000 in revenue over a two-year period.
  4. Current H-1B visa holders could also qualify for a startup visa if they start a new enterprise that creates 3 new jobs in two years.

As proposed, the legislation would reform the current EB-5 visa. An underutilized visa category, the U.S. grants EB-5 visas to foreign investors who contribute a minimum of $500,000 to a new or existing American enterprise. There are 10,000 such visas available annually, but only a few thousand have ever been issued in a given year.

After all, there are only so many people who have an extra $500,000 to spare for a green card.

The StartUp Act would simply reserve for immigrant entrepreneurs a portion of those EB-5 visas that never get used anyway – a strategy its supporters hope will assuage the concerns of those who oppose issuing more visas to more immigrants.

The aim of the StartUp Act is clearly to encourage the next generation of tech innovators to set up shop in the U.S. instead of wherever they currently reside. Whether it actually becomes law – and, ultimately, a source of significant job creation – remains to be seen.

Image courtesy: The Mechanical Turk

About Author: Adam Green is a freelance copywriter, business news junkie, and enterprise fraud management enthusiast. He’s also into tech “stuff” and makes it a point to keep up with exciting startups.

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