The next president must make passing The Startup Act one of their priorities as a presidential candidate. This would be one giant step towards immigration reform and to really leverage the power of international talent to improve our economy. Here is why...
One: Stop the STEM Students Brain Drain
Studies show that more STEM students here in the U.S. are foreign compared to those that are U.S. Citisens. It is concerning when "we bring them here, we train them, then they leave," according to Vince Bartram, president and CEO of Project Lead the Way, as quoted in the U.S.News article. The reason that most of these students leave after their studies is because they could not find jobs to maintain their immigration status in the U.S.
The Startup Act would provide conditional permanent residence for these students for up to one year after the expiration of the students' F-1 visa as long as they are "diligently searching for an opportunity to become actively engaged" in a STEM field. Let's face it, in the current economy, a couple of mouths of grace period is not enough for the students to find job opportunities. This solution allows the foreign national to stay here for one year while searching for a suitable job.
Two: Encourages Continuing Innovation
In addition to the one year job search opportunity, this Act also provides the foreign nationals with an additional incentive to stay in the STEM field without going through their employers. So long as they are "actively engaged in a STEM field," they would be eligible to remove the conditions on their permanent residence in five years.
In many instances, a foreign national here on H-1B may be forced to leave once their 6-year term is over, if not earlier. In many instances, however, innovations may take more than 6 years for them to become viable. Many employers would be caught between coming up with the money to file for employment-based immigration petitions to sponsor the H-1B innovator or letting them go. For startups, having funding is the the foundation of their existence, so coming up with the sponsorship may not be possible.
This Act would allow those foreign national innovators to stay here and continue working on their inventions past 6 years. They would be eligible to remove the conditions on the permanent residence, as long as they are (1) gainfully employed in a STEM field, (2) teaching courses in the STEM field, or (3) employed by a government entity. In this way, the foreign national would be free to innovate and contribute to the country's growth, without fear that they would have to leave the U.S. in a number of years.
Three: Small Business Ownership
The Act encourages foreign national entrepreneurs to start their own businesses in the U.S. in order to boost the economy. Much empirical evidence is out there showing that small businesses are the backbone to our economy, here are the facts to back that up. There is also much evidence to show that immigrants are driving small business growth in the U.S. This Act ties up the loose ends and allows foreign immigrants to start businesses in the U.S., contribute to economic growth, and become legal permanent residents in the process.
It provides constant checks to ensure that the foreign national is contributing to local economic growth before removing his conditions to permanent residence 5 years later. In order for a foreign national to maintain his conditional permanent resident status, he must register a business during the first year of his immigrant visa. Subsequently, he must employ at least 2 full-time employees unrelated to him. And lastly, he must employ at least 5 full-time employees who are not relatives of the foreign national within 4 years of receiving his immigrant visa. Towards the end of the four years, the foreign national would be eligible to remove the conditions on his permanent residence.
This option provides a similar program to the EB-5 direct investment, only more achievable to the middle class entrepreneurs and less scam-ridden. We know the benefits that EB-5 direct investments have provided to our economy, this program could only help.
Four: Other Countries Are Using This, Why Not Us?
Last but not least, here is a list of just some of the countries already utilizing the startup visa and immigrant entrepreneur programs to improve their economy: Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, France, and Italy, among many others. If the U.S. does not implement this Act, we will lose our best and brightest STEM students and entrepreneurs to these countries. It is time the U.S. stops pondering the reasons why we should have this program and start asking why not.
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Zhang-Louie, Immigration Legal Counsel is a semi-virtual immigration law practice in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Embedded in Cambridge's innovative culture, we understand that particularly for startups, finding the most qualified employees and your own immigration issues can be unnecessary distractions, keeping you from your innovations. We are here to provide you guidance and counsel on hiring globally and ensuring that you can stay in the U.S., so that you can focus on growing your business.