In a vote today, the U.S. Senate passed a historic immigration reform bill whose provisions include a visa for foreign-born startup founders and an increase in the number of visas available to highly skilled workers employed by technology companies. The bill also offers a path to citizenship for the millions of immigrants already living illegally in the United States.
Although the bill drew bipartisan support in the Senate, with 14 Republicans voting for it, it will almost certainly face a tougher fight in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives in the weeks to come. In an emailed statement, billionaire Steve Case, a staunch proponent of the bill, lauded the vote for advancing "an immigration system that meets the needs of our 21st-century economy."
Immigration reform is necessary to win "the global battle for talent," Case told Entrepreneur.com in a recent sit-down interview. In addition to cultivating home-grown talent, "we also have to make sure we remain the place people want to come -- not just to get an education but to start a company, so that the next big companies and the next big industries are here," Case said.
Among the reform bill's measures designed to draw talent to the U.S. is a proposed increase of the cap on H-1B visas. These visas are given to skilled technical workers of the kind that fuel Silicon Valley companies, from giants like Apple to the smallest startups. If the bill becomes law, it will raise the annual limit on H-1B visas to 110,000 from the current 65,000 -- with the possibility of going even higher in the years ahead.
The bill also would create a new class of visa for foreign-born entrepreneurs who want to start up in the States. Several other countries, including Canada, the U.K. and Singapore, already offer such a visa, and the bill's supporters see it as a crucial means of staying competitive in the global economy.
Although some view immigration as a moral issue, or a political issue, Case said, he views it "in a much more strategic way, as an opportunity we need to seize." American leadership in the world "is not an accident," he said, but rather "the work of entrepreneurs," many of them immigrants. "We're a startup nation."