Lawmakers, entrepreneurs push immigration proposals ahead of State of the Union

February 12, 2013

A group of entrepreneurs and legislators is urging President Obama to put particular emphasis on bringing more highly skilled, foreign-born individuals into the country, as calls for broad immigration reform grow louder.

Three senators sent a letter to the president late last week imploring him to address some of the unique hurdles facing today’s entrepreneurs in his fifth State of the Union address. Among those hurdles, they say, none is bigger than immigration laws that are stopping highly educated, entrepreneurial immigrants from launching companies and creating jobs in the United States.

“In your State of the Union address last year, you called on Congress to pass an agenda that helps startups and small businesses succeed,” Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) and Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) wrote in the letter. “Congress took an important step in this direction by passing the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, but there is more that must be done.”

Moran, Warner and Coons are also renewing their push for an idea they floated with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) last May called Startup Act 2.0. On Wednesday morning, they plan to formally reintroduce the legislation, according to sources in the press offices for both Moran and Warner.

The legislation would modify the current tax code to encourage investments in new and young businesses, streamline the process for colleges and universities looking to commercialize new research or technology, and create a new class of visa for entrepreneurs. If passed, 75,000 of those visas would be immediately available to foreign-born entrepreneurs who hire U.S. employees right away and raise at least $100,000 of capital.

Startup Act 2.0 received support from both sides of the aisle when it was first introduced but got held up by questions over broader immigration reform and widespread gridlock in Congress. In its latest revival, the challenge may be selling the bill and its targeted approach to the administration, which has advocated heavily for an all-or-nothing fix to the nation’s immigration problems.

“There’s a lot of talk right now in Washington about immigration reform,” Warner said last week at an event in Washington, noting that other countries are taking steps to attract foreign entrepreneurs while the U.S. stands idly by. “As this discussion continues, I believe it’s imperative for Congress to provide a way for immigrants to stay in the United States and grow their businesses.”

The legislation’s supporters range from large technology corporations (including Google and Microsoft) to start-up founders, the latter of which have traveled to the nation’s capital on several occasions to round up support for immigration reform.

A week ago, more than a dozen entrepreneurs paid a visit to Capitol Hill, urging lawmakers to help them bring in talent from overseas by lifting restrictions on H1-B visas. Days later, a separate group of entrepreneurs gathered at the White House to outline several policy recommendations for the administration, several of them emphasizing those same concerns about the nation’s current immigration laws.

“What we’re talking about is how to create the resources and conditions to help entrepreneurs, and one of the primary ways the government can do that is to allow start-ups to go find talent,” Andy Stoll, co-founder of Seed Here Studio, a networking start-up for young companies in Iowa City and one of the entrepreneurs who presented at the White House, said in an interview. “We really need those high-skilled immigrants who want to come to the United States.”

Follow On Small Business and J.D. Harrison .

J.D. Harrison covers startups, small business and entrepreneurship, with a focus on public policy, and he manages the Post's On Small Business blog.
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