With more foreign-born students now returning to booming economies in countries such as China and India, technical communities hope a proposed bill will stop the brain drain they've suffering.
The bill, soon to be reintroduced in Congress, pitches a let's-make-a-deal plan for immigrant entrepreneurs: Want a green card? Start a company.
The StartUp Visa Act targets startup efforts across all sectors, but enthusiasm for the bill is especially acute in tech communities where foreign-born students want to stay and develop a company.
But these new visas -- a permanent resident card (or "green card") called an EB-6 -- aren't available to any immigrant with a good idea. To qualify, an entrepreneur would need to raise at least $250,000 from investors, and over two years create at least five full-time jobs in the United States, attract $1 million in additional investment or surpass revenue of $1 million.
The effort aligns with the Obama administration's new assault on unemployment.
Visa programs currently in place offer incentives to only foreign investors; this would be the first time an early-stage entrepreneur could build a business plan toward citizenship.
The StartUp Visa Act was introduced by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., last February. Interest was revived following President Barack Obama's State of the Union address. The senators plan to reintroduce the bill "probably in the next month or so," said Mark Helmke, a spokesman for Lugar.
The most recent research on immigrant-founded firms, headed by Duke University researcher Vivek Wadhwa, concluded that immigrants started 25 percent of the companies founded between 1995 and 2005 nationally. But the research team found 52 percent of Silicon Valley firms were started by immigrants.
The $250,000 required for the EB-6 visa must come from so-called angel investors who provide seed funding for early-stage startups, usually in exchange for an ownership stake.
Critics of the legislation say tying citizenship to successful fundraising can grant too much power to investors.
In an opinion piece published by Business Insider, Paris-based tech entrepreneur Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry questioned the possible motives of investor demands when deportation is at stake. Gobry said the increased pressure could coerce entrepreneurs into unfair agreements about ownership stakes.
"How many terms can a wily investor wring from this new language? How much liquidation? How much liquidation preference?" he wrote.
(Reach Erich Schwartzel at eschwartzel(at)post-gazette.com. For more stories visit scrippsnews.com.)