Silicon Prairie News

Iowa senator’s ‘hold’ endangering Startup Visa Act

Des Moines February 27, 2012 by Adrienne Baughman Only 17 days until Big Omaha. Get your tickets before they sell out!

U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) confers with attendees at Thinc Iowa in November.

As Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad attends the National Governors Association meeting in Washington, DC, today, some key startup legislation is currently being held in the Senate Judiciary Committee by fellow Iowa Republican, U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley.

"I think we are really looking at about a six-week window for Congress to act," said Cameron Cushman, an associate with the Kansas City-based Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

"If the proposed legislation directly affecting startups doesn't move before June, then there is little chance anything will pass in this Congress. Then you are looking at next year," Cushman said.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, The Startup Visa Act of 2011 (H.R. 1114) was introduced last spring by U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), and co-sponsored by Rep. William Owens (D-NY). The bill would issue new visas to sponsored foreign entrepreneurs who possess specific financial backing.

The proposed Startup Visa Act is summarized in Congress as the following:

StartUp Visa Act of 2011 - Amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to establish an employment-based, conditional immigrant visa (StartUp visa) for a sponsored alien entrepreneur: (1) with required amounts of financial backing from a qualifying investor, government entity, or venture capitalist; and (2) whose commercial activities will generate required levels of employment, revenue, or capital investment.

Directs the Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) to terminate the status of a sponsored entrepreneur (and the alien spouse and children of such entrepreneur) if not later than three years after the date on which such permanent resident status was conferred: (1) the sponsoring venture capitalist or investor fails to meet investment requirements; or (2) the entrepreneur fails to meet job creation, capital investment, or revenue requirements.

Source: Thomas, The Library of Congress

The Startup Visa Act's related bill in the Senate is S.565, sponsored by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and co-sponsored by five democratic senators and Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) where it was read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary where Grassley is the ranking member.

Another bill under the same fate is H.R. 3012 dubbed the "Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2011." It too rests in the Senate Judiciary Committee. This bill generally aims to eliminate the set numerical limitations for employment-based immigrants.

"There is a hold on H.R. 3012," said Beth Levine, Grassley's communications director on the Senate Judiciary Committee, citing the senator's concerns with fraud and abuse in America's current visa programs.

If enacted, the measure would be a boon for frustrated high-tech foreign students already in the US and caught up in uncertainty after their studies end, or the terms of their visa expire and they are forced to return to their country of origin.

India-born Gopal Miglani (left), president and founder of BitRouter Inc., came to Iowa to earn a graduate degree in computer science and started a software company before he ever graduated. Now with full citizenship and after years of employing American workers, he sees the need for careful review of proposed visa legislation and the system he's been through personally.

"We should increase the number of H1-B visas. These visas should favor foreign graduates of US universities to stay in the US, work and start companies here. If we give visas to young people who are just starting their careers and families, they will be more likely to put in roots in the US and contribute to our economy over a very long term," Miglani said.

"Band-aid reform, like the startup-visa program, is inadequate. We need comprehensive immigration reform. The US should favor educated immigrants over low-skilled labor-pool immigrants." Miglani added.

"We know that a typical tech company will create jobs that didn't exist before. Compare that amount of energy with the amount of money it takes to attract a Microsoft to Iowa. If you could spend the same energy on helping 100 startups – the multiplier effect of jobs is massive," said Tej Dhawan, an India-born entrepreneur and principal at StartupCity Des Moines who supports the startup legislation.

No Senate actions have been taken on these bills to date, but Grassley issued a statement on Wednesday:

Any bill that attempts to improve the U.S. economy should be given high consideration. Senator Grassley looks forward to possible hearings on the Start-Up Visa Act, which has yet to be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee. At this time it's unclear if Judiciary Committee Chairman Leahy or Immigration Subcommittee Chairman Schumer will have hearings on the bill to allow the committee members to ask questions and learn more about the details and how it will impact Iowans.

Grassley's hold and use of his senior rank in the US Senate infuriate some experts in Silicon Valley.

"America is bleeding competitiveness right now, because our flawed immigration policies – especially those advocated by Senator Grassley are closing the doors on skilled foreigners. These policies are causing these job-creating immigrants to return home to countries like China and India – which is making those countries more competitive and us weaker," said Vivek Wadhwa (left), vice president of Academics and Innovation at Singularity University.

"The Startup Visa could lead to tens of thousands of new startups – which would eventually employ hundreds of thousands American workers. Senator Grassley has established himself as the single greatest barrier to skilled immigration," Wadhwa said.

Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority is in Washington, DC with Branstad for a meeting of the National Governors Association which ends today.

"We have to grow the (Iowa) population. Those visas make sense to us. On the surface, it's something we support," Durham said. 

Tim Albrecht, Branstad's communications director, said Friday the governor had no plans to discuss immigration issues in Washington and would need time to further study the startup visa legislation before taking a position on it.

 

Credits: Photo of Grassley by Anna Jones | Art of Photography and Ikonix. Photo of Gopal Miglani from bitrouter.com. Photo of Vivek Wadwha from twitter.com/wadhwa.

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