Kerry-Lugar bill targets H-1B Visa holders: Stop being an employee, become an employer

A provision in the "Startup Visa" bill offers a new route to permanent residency for graduate students and H-1B visa holders.

The Kerry-Lugar "Startup Visa" Bill, reintroduced yesterday to the Senate, drew attention to immigrant entrepreneurs and business owners. But a little covered provision in the bill offered a new route to permanent residency for graduate students and H-1B visa holders, those leaving the country in the "Brain Drain": Stop being an employee, become an employer.

The latest draft of the legislation by Senators John Kerry (D-Mass) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), grants H-1B visa holders and graduate school graduates a route to a "permanent resident" visa at a much lower bar than other classes covered in the bill. To be eligible, graduates and H-1B visa holders must:

  • Raise $20,000 in initial investment, far less than the $100,000 required of others
  • Two years later, the startup must have raised or earned an additional $100,000 and created three new jobs; the same milestone for immigrants in other classes would be $500,000 and five new jobs.

The focus here is on job creation and startups are seen a faster route to new jobs than investment in standing businesses, writes Angus Loten in the Wall Street Journal:

Studies show that start-ups create more jobs than established companies, while immigrants are nearly 30% more likely to start a business than non-immigrants.

Over a quarter of all engineering and technology firms launched in the U.S. since the mid-1990s had at least one immigrant founder, including Google Inc., Intel Corp., Yahoo Inc. and eBay Inc., according to Duke University researchers.

A tangential, but significant benefit would be a route to keep H-1B visa holders and graduates from fleeing the country when those visas expire. H-1B worker visas are too few, according to many IT business leaders, sending bright workers willing to support the U.S. economy back to their home countries. The Startup Visa offers those workers a new path to stay here -- become a boss.

The Startup Visa program will not impact any overall immigration quotas. The visas come from unused EB-5 visas, originally set aside for foreigners who invest at least $1 million into a U.S. business that creates 10 new jobs. Only about half of those 9,940 visas are issued annually, according to Sen. Kerry.

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