Advocating The Startup Visa Act

Yesterday I was with yet another non-U.S. entrepreneur who is struggling to get the right visa to stay in the US and build his company here. This entrepreneur happens to be from England, and his business partner (and best friend since they were kids) is also English, but managed to get into the U.S. because he fell in love with and married an American a while ago. The business partner lives in Denver, so they started the company there a year or so ago.

They are a small company right now with a pretty interesting product and vision. One founder lives in the U.K., the other lives in Denver. The U.K. founder travels to the U.S. when he can get a travel visa, but he’s been careful not to get offsides since he’s been in the visa application process for a while. They’ve spent a bunch of money on legal fees, continue to chew up money on travel from the U.K. to the U.S., and have to deal with the uncertainty (both timing and functional) around the visa process.

Along with some others, I’ve been trying to get something called The Startup Visa Act passed in Congress and turned into law. The biggest thing to come out of it for me personally has been a deep understanding of how the process of an idea to bill to law works.

After two years of advocating for this, there is extremely broad support throughout Congress for this concept and it has been written into many of the job creation / startup type bills that are out there. But--nothing has been passed. The White House made some policy changes over the summer that have been somewhat helpful, but are still making their way through the USCIS bureaucracy, which means many of these policy changes are not yet being implemented, or people in the field at USCIS have no idea how to implement them.

In hindsight, I realized I’d made a giant mistake. Rather than call it the “Startup Visa Movement”, we should have called it the “Stealing Jobs From Foreign Countries Act.” I haven’t yet come up with the right acronym for it (SJFFCA doesn’t quite work, but I’m sure some of you out there could acronymize this.) Instead of positioning this as a “Startup Thing” or a “Visa Thing”, we should have just taken the same cynical approach to titling the activity that many in Washington do. I mean, c’mon, how could any red blooded America object to stealing jobs from foreign countries?

Every week I am in contact with at least one foreign entrepreneur who is struggling to stay in the U.S. and build their company here. Over the past year, it’s probably been several hundred which represent thousands of jobs and who knows how much innovative, amazing stuff. Hopefully the new USCIS Entrepreneur in Residence program will help figure out how to make the Startup Visa a reality. Or maybe Congress will finally take some action and get a bill passed.

Either way, I know that as every day passes, we are missing a huge opportunity in this country by making it hard for non-U.S. citizens to stay here and build their high growth entrepreneurial companies.

Reprinted from Feld Thoughts

Brad Feld is a managing director at Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. He invests in software and Internet companies around the U.S., runs marathons, and reads a lot. Follow him at twitter.com/bfeld.

[Image: Flickr user MalNino]

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