US visas for founders of start-ups is an important topic that I feel rather strongly about. There are no ifs or buts about it. It is a crime that we do not have a mechanism to retain the brightest minds from other countries in our own who would create exciting & dynamic new ventures, create jobs for educated Americans, lead the way in global innovation, and open new frontiers for our economy. We need to immediately figure out a way to enable anybody who wants to start a legit business in the US to stay here.
Brad Feld and Paul Kedrosky have done an excellent job describing why we need to have:
(a) a special class of visa called ‘Startup visa’ for founders of startups. Founders that are able to raise a nominal amount of capital as validation of their company creation idea should be given a visa so they stay here and pursue their venture.
(b) a visa stapled to every graduate degree awarded in the US to retain the brightest minds here instead of sending them away after training them at our top universities. These young, highly educated, motivated and creative individuals are precisely what this country needs – for innovation, job creation, global leadership.
I have been an entrepreneur who created at least a couple dozen jobs in the US, and am now an investor in startups that create even more jobs….but I almost never became an entrepreneur due to visa issues.
Even with a highly technical Ph.D from MIT, I had no legal way of staying in this country after graduation to start a company. I had a couple of business ideas in mind but no way of pursuing them formally. My entrepreneurship passion was almost destined to die in entrepreneurship classes at MIT.
The only way for me to stay in the country post-graduation was to get a job in a large corporation that would sponsor an H1-B work visa. So I did that and joined a large management consulting firm. I liked my work, but lets be clear: I did not create any new jobs for Americans, or create much economic value/contribution to US economy in any meaningful manner (besides paying taxes) until I was able to join the entrepreneurship ranks mostly due to a lucky option available to me to retain my visa status in the US. For a few reasons, we created our new company initially as a subsidiary of our angel investor’s company, and fortunately for me I was able to transfer my H1-B visa to that parent company while I applied for a permanent residency as a person of interest to the US. Had that visa transfer not been possible (and most non-US citizen/resident startup founders don’t have such corporate structures available to them), I would have had to stay in my corporate job for additional 6-7 years (possibly my most productive years). I think 7 years later, with a bigger salary+bonus package in a comfy corporate job, leaving to do a startup would have been infinitely harder. I was able to take a big risk when I did partly because I had less to lose at a young age, and partly because passions ran strong. Now I wish for more people to have the kind of opportunity I had in this country.
I am posting some sections of Brad and Paul’s article in Wall Street Journal below:
While fast-growing companies have long been the main source of new jobs and innovation, this country makes it outrageously difficult for immigrants to launch new companies here. This doesn’t make any sense. After all, Google, Pfizer, Intel, Yahoo, DuPont, eBay and Procter & Gamble are all former start-ups founded by immigrants. Where would this country be today without their world-changing innovations?
Immigrants have not only founded big, well-known companies. 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.
Yet we don’t seem to care. We send recent, foreign-born university science and engineering graduates back to their own countries after their student visas expire—unless these creative sorts are willing to spend some of the most entrepreneurial years of their lives working in a big company under an H-1B visa after they finish their studies.
In the 21st century […] opportunities don’t wait for our interminable, employment-based visa programs. As a result rather than saying “Come and create jobs here” we, in effect, tell them to shove off. Come back when you have a few million in sales— at which point they will be rooted elsewhere and creating jobs somewhere else.
That needs to end now. Immigrants who come here to create companies create jobs. We need the jobs.
The U.S. remains one of the most attractive countries for entrepreneurs. It has a culture of risk taking, capital formation, and an economic dynamism that is the envy of the world. This gives us a competitive edge that we should not let slip through our fingers.