VISAS FOR THE NEXT SERGEY BRIN

March 9, 2010

Immigrants have founded about 25 percent of the technology companies in the United States, which employ tens of thousands of Americans.  Allowing more immigrant entrepreneurs would create a lot more jobs without spending federal money, says Robert E. Litan, vice president of research and policy at the Kauffman Foundation and co-author of "Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism, and the Economics of Growth and Prosperity." 

A bill introduced Feb. 24 by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) would do just that, says Litan: 

  • Their "Startup Visa Act" would create a new, two-year visa for immigrant entrepreneurs whose firms attract at least $250,000 in financing from American angel investors or venture capital firms.
  • The visa would become permanent if the firm adds at least five nonfamily employees, attracts $1 million in financing, or earns $1 million in revenue.  

Unfortunately, the new visa is tied more to money -- especially at the outset -- than it is to jobs creation.  What this means is that relatively few immigrants would be able to take advantage of the new visa, and commensurately far fewer jobs will be created than we need now and for the foreseeable future, says Litan. 

Google was founded by Sergey Brin, a Russian immigrant, and American Larry Page by borrowing funds from their own credit cards.  Why on earth would we want to create an entrepreneurs' visa that couldn't let in the future Sergey Brin, asks Litan. 

Here's a way to improve on the Kerry-Lugar plan, says Litan: 

  • Create a true "job creator's visa," one tied directly and only to job creation by new immigrant entrepreneurs.
  • The visa could be a temporary one for immigrants already here on another visa who establish a business.
  • It could then be extended if the firm hires at least one American nonfamily resident.
  • The visa should become permanent once the enterprise crosses a certain job threshold (such as five or 10 workers), but it would not be tied to financing. 

Source: Robert E. Litan, "Visas for the Next Sergey Brin; To create more jobs, let's import more employers," Wall Street Journal, March 8, 2010.

 

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