Immigration is the lifeblood of the U.S., but also a thorny problem of late...and one that some say is aggravated by abuse of the H1-B visiting skilled worker visa. Is it time to consider a new system, one that rewards entrepreneurs instead?
The idea is being getting some traction over at Brad Felds' Web site, where he's championing an idea originally dreamed up by Paul Graham: The Founder Visa. This idea, terribly simple at heart, would see the creation of a limited number of automatic permanent visas for innovators and entrepreneurs who found a start-up company in the U.S.
Brad wrote about the idea a while ago, even going as far as alerting a number of congressmen to the scheme's potential—one of whom has recently displayed much interest in the plan. The reason it's become relevant again is, of course, the continuing economic slump. This has seen some predictable and bizarre knock-on effects, including decreased venture capital activity and an apparently xenophobic stance by a senator over Microsoft's recession-driven job-cuts—this last issue being linked, apparently, to the H1-B visa issue.
The idea's attraction is its simplicity, of course: A startup company is capable of evolving from a small enterprise to a big one, generating jobs and revenues as it goes. Anyone wishing to make the bold move of founding a start-up, effectively trying their hand at wealth-generation, should be welcomed—no matter where on earth they're from. Of course it's nigh on impossible to predict which startups will succeed, and which will fail. But the idea behind the permanent Founder visa isn't to punish entrepreneurs who's schemes fall flat, since in all likelihood if you're an entrepreneur you'll work on a number of startups throughout your life, and your most successful one needn't be the first.
There's no naivety towards potential abuses, either, since the program would have a number of built-in protections. A non-government board of credible investors and entrepreneurs would sift the applicants for truly viable business plans, and anyone wishing to be declared a "Founder" should own at least 10% of a company. That company should also already have a minimum level of funding in place. If a company fails, the Founder will have a limited time within which to create a new enterprise, or risk losing the visa.
Is this a brilliant idea, or a dangerous one? It certainly taps into the work-centric American way of thinking, and it could have two significant benefits: It could circumvent some of the supposed H1-B issues, and it may result in a plethora of startups, a number of which will go onto success that could help lighten the economic gloom. Founder visa immigrants also aren't necessarily competing for U.S. jobs (the core thinking behind many other limiting visas) since by definition they're creating a whole new enterprise. It's also a nice tribute to the core American Dream, and in these xenophobic times it's a pleasantly cosmopolitan piece of thinking. Can this solve the H1-B issues, or is it a scheme full of holes? Over to you in the comments, chaps.