Push for Entrepreneur Immigration Reform Grows on Capitol Hill
As the drumbeat for immigration reform grows louder, several bipartisan groups of Senators are putting their weight behind individual components of the reform that explicitly benefit entrepreneurs.
Wednesday, Senators Mark Udall (D, Colo.) and Jeff Flake (R, Ariz.) said that they plan to reintroduce the Startup Visa Act. The Act, which was first introduced by Sen. John Kerry (D, Mass.) in 2010 and then reintroduced by a bipartisan group in 2011, gives foreign-born entrepreneurs who either gain financing from U.S. investors or earn revenue from U.S. customers a visa to launch and grow their business. If those entrepreneurs create jobs for U.S. employees, they would have the option to stay in the U.S. permanently.
On Tuesday, another group of bipartisan Senators put forth the Immigration Innovation Act of 2013, which increases the ability of highly-educated and trained immigrants to stay in the U.S. The bill was introduced by U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R, Fla.), Orrin Hatch (R, Utah), Amy Klobuchar (D, Minn.), and Chris Coons (D, Del.) and proposes increasing the cap on H-1B visas, those made available to highly-skilled professionals, to 115,000 from 65,000. Also, the legislation would create a sliding scale of the number of H-1B visas made available depending on demand.
Rubio, favored to be a Presidential candidate in 2016, has taken some heat from conservatives for getting behind immigration reform, a political hot-button issue. In an article Rubio penned for the conservative political blog Red State, he laid out the economic necessity of encouraging highly-skilled immigrants to stay in the U.S. While the U.S. technology industry creates 120,000 computer engineering jobs per year, the U.S. higher education system only graduates about 40,000 students per year, he says. To fill the talent gap, the young Republican party leader says more visas and green cards are necessary.
The Immigration Innovation Act of 2013 would also exempt graduates of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) Ph.D. and master’s degrees from the green-card cap to encourage more of the foreign-born students who study in the U.S. to remain in the U.S. “Persons with extraordinary ability” and “outstanding professors and researchers” would also be exempt from the green-card cap. And among other proposals, the Immigration Innovation Act would reform the fee structure for H-1B visas and employment-based green cards and create a grant program for promoting STEM grads.
The flurry of bipartisan support for entrepreneur immigration issues comes in the same week when a group of eight Senators released a legislative framework for comprehensive reform and the White House released its blueprint for comprehensive reform. Despite the bipartisan support for both the Startup Visa Act and the Immigration Innovation Act of 2013, the President and his administration have made it clear that they are not interested in a piecemeal effort toward immigration reform.
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Catherine Clifford is senior entrepreneurship writer at CNBC. She was formerly a senior writer at Entrepreneur.com, the small business reporter at CNNMoney and an assistant in the New York bureau for CNN. Clifford attended Columbia University where she earned a bachelor's degree. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. You can follow her on Twitter at @CatClifford.