A Founders Visa program to stimulate the Economy?

Categories: Immigration Lawyer Blog San Diego

Entrepreneur turned academic, Vivek Wadhwa, argues in the latest issue of BusinessWeek for a new visa targeted toward entrepreneurs with great ideas and start up capital to launch new enterprises and create US jobs. Under this founders visa program, investor-backed foreign entrepreneurs would be able to come to the US on a permanent resident visa and take on the risk of starting new companies and potentially build the next Google or Cisco Systems. Foreign-born residents made up just 12.5% of the U.S. population in 2008. But nearly 40% of technology company founders and 52% of founders of companies in Silicon Valley.

Vivek Wadhwa explains:

Suppose a talented engineer who is not a U.S. citizen has a great idea for a new type of search engine and wants to start a company. This entrepreneur wants to start that company in the U.S., where venture capital markets are the most mature, intellectual property laws are strong, and the talent level is high. It turns out that the would-be founder’s search engine idea is actually very good. So a qualified U.S. investor decides to put real money—say, $250,000 to $500,000—into the startup. That investor could nominate the potential founder for a Founders Visa while also making a formal commitment to fund his or her company. The idea and the founder’s résumé would then need to pass muster with a government or industry-appointed board of venture capitalists, financiers, or technology experts. After passing, the founder would be granted a permanent resident visa.

Vivek goes on to state that a founder visa program could stem the tide of talented, tech-savvy foreigners who are leaving the U.S. to seek fortunes in their home countries, primarily China and India.

U.S. Representative Jared Polis (D-Colo.), himself a former entrepreneur, is developing legislation to make it easier for foreign founders of investor-backed start-ups to secure visas to remain in the U.S. Even conservatives such as Newt Gingrich are in favor of such initiatives.

This Wall Street Journal Op-Ed also makes the case for start-up visas to jump-start the economy. The authors argue that entrepreneurs who can get investment funding from from legitimate sources, such as venture capital firms or angel investors, should be allowed to come to America to start their business idea. The authors point out that while some of these businesses will fail, the visa could continue as long as the entrepreneur continues to raise capital, create jobs, make sales, etc.

It will be interesting to see if Congress takes action on such proposals and what the reaction from the USCIS will be (likely not favorable, my guess).