Despite the buzz surrounding Silicon Valley, startup activity in the U.S. has been in decline. In fact, business “deaths” have been outpacing business “births” for several years. That’s bad news for the U.S. economy, which depends on the large share of jobs created by new businesses every year.
However, highly skilled immigrant workers could help reverse this trend. And the latest version of the Startup Act, if passed, might help open some doors.
Proposed by Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), the Act is intended to revive America’s entrepreneurial economy. The Act would create an “entrepreneur visa” that would allow up to 75,000 non-citizens to start and grow a business in the U.S., meeting certain benchmarks over a three-year period. The Act also includes a new visa category for up to 50,000 foreign-born students who graduate from U.S. universities with degrees in science, technology, engineering or math (known as STEM skills). Currently, these students—the world’s best and brightest—are required to leave after completing their studies here. The Act would also eliminate caps on the number of work visas that can be granted to individuals from each country.
Critics say the U.S. is already saturated with high-skilled STEM workers who could siphon off jobs or lower wage scales and salary expectations. However, even in the current system, visas designed for foreign workers with STEM expertise are portable; these are often highly skilled professionals, well compensated and free to move on to other positions. A study from the Harvard Business School found that the program for foreign workers “has played an important role in U.S. innovation patterns” over the past 15 years. In fact, patents increase when visa caps are higher. And of course, it’s worth keeping in mind that even immigrants who have earned degrees in non-STEM areas are vital to creating new businesses. The founders of PayPal, YouTube and Skype are just a few examples.
With the current immigration climate in Washington, the Start-Up Act has had trouble gaining traction—even after three iterations since 2011. But the fourth time may be the charm. And if it passes, the U.S. economy and its workers stand to reap the benefits.