Senators beckon immigrant entrepreneurs and workers with Startup Act 2.0


Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) talk with AOL co-founder Steve Case before a news conference introducing Startup Act 2.0. (Andrew Harrer/BLOOMBERG)

A bipartisan group of senators has introduced legislation to help American companies hire immigrant workers, particularly those with hard-to-find math and science expertise — but the bill faces a tough battle on the Hill.

Startup Act 2.0 would essentially create two new types of visas, one for foreign students who obtain graduate degrees in science- and math-related fields from American universities, and another that offers permanent residence to immigrants who start successful companies and create jobs in the United States.

Similar legislation failed earlier this year after it got caught in larger questions about immigration policy, and complaints that the non-natives could squeeze Americans out of well-paying jobs.

Freshman Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) worked across party lines on the new bill, which would also eliminate caps on the number of work-based visas allotted to each foreign nation, further easing the path for skilled immigrants who want to bring their talents and business ideas to the United States.

Startup Act 2.0 “will help solidify America’s position as the world’s most entrepreneurial nation,” Steve Case, co-founder of AOL and member of President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, said in a statement. “Winning the global battle for talent is essential if we are going to keep our entrepreneurial economy moving forward.”

The United States is currently falling behind in that battle, according to research published the same day by The Partnership for a New American Economy and Partnership for New York City, which shows a widening gap between the supply and demand of American graduates educated in the so-called STEM fields of science, technology engineering and mathematics.

Right now, the number of job openings requiring such degrees is increasing at three times the rate of the rest of the job market; however, college students majoring in non-STEM fields still outnumber their math- and science-minded counterparts 5-to-1, according to the National Science Foundation. Moreover, the growth rate of new STEM majors remains among the slowest of any category.

Should the trend continue without intervention, American businesses would be looking for an estimated 800,000 workers with advanced STEM degrees in 2018 but only find 550,000 American graduates with that type of training. 

But that’s where easing restrictions on immigrants can help, according to the researchers behind the report, who point to studies showing that 60 percent of foreign graduate students in the United States were enrolled in science and engineering in 2010. In addition, a study earlier this year showed that half of the nation’s top venture-backed companies have at least one immigrant founder, and three out of four claim at least one foreign-born executive.

However, many foreign-born graduates are forced to return to their home countries, where they often create or work for businesses that compete against those in the United States.

“America has always been a magnet for the world’s most talented and hardest working” New York City Mayor Bloomberg said. “But we are quickly losing our edge as other countries adopt smarter economic-driven immigration policies. The future is on the line – now is the time to reform the system and welcome the workers who will continue our success as the world’s leading economy.”

Collectively, the groups urged federal policy makers to start prioritizing the nation’s economic goals ahead of their political views on immigration, beginning with legislative recommendations that nearly match verbatim those unveiled hours later in the Senate.

“To get America’s economic engine roaring once again, entrepreneurs, both American and foreign-born, must be free to pursue their ideas, form companies in the United States and hire employees,” Sen. Moran said in a statement following the bill’ introduction.

But with the election looming and partisan tensions running extraordinarily high, what chance does Startup Act 2.0 have in Congress? Moran said that likely depends on whether lawmakers can set aside their differences on sweeping, comprehensive immigration reform and focus on the intentions of this more targeted piece of legislation.

“I would guess that 80 percent of my colleagues in Congress would agree with the visa provisions in this legislation,” he said. “And what I would encourage is that we not take the attitude or approach that unless we do everything, we can’t do anything.”

Follow J.D. Harrison and On Small Business on Twitter.

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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