Calls mount for US start-up visa to spur immigrant-founded start-ups

Almost a quarter of US tech start-ups were founded by immigrants, according to a new report by the Kauffman Foundation, but this figure is actually in decline, renewing calls for a start-up visa.


The report, titled America’s New Immigrant Entrepreneurs: Then and Now, evaluated the rate of immigrant entrepreneurship from 2006 to 2012.


It shows the proportion of immigrant-founded companies in the US has fallen from 25.3% to 24.3% since 2005.


Interestingly, the decline is even more pronounced in Silicon Valley, where the percentage of immigrant-founded start-ups has fallen from 52.4% to 43.9%.


According to Dane Stangler, director of research and policy at the Kauffman Foundation, the unwelcoming immigration system in the US has created a “reverse brain drain”.


“To maintain a dynamic economy, the US needs to embrace immigrant entrepreneurs,” Stangler said in a statement.


Vivek Wadha, director of research at the Centre for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialisation at Duke University, is one of the report’s authors.


Wadha believes the US can reverse this trend “if it acts swiftly”.


“It is imperative that we create a start-up visa for these entrepreneurs and expand the number of green cards for skilled foreigners to work in these start-ups,” Wadha said in a statement.


“Many immigrants would gladly remain in the United States to start and grow companies that will lead to jobs.”


Last year, three US senators reintroduced legislation to help immigrant entrepreneurs secure visas to the US.


The Startup Visa Act of 2011 would allow an immigrant entrepreneur to receive a two-year visa if he or she can show that a qualified US investor is willing to invest in their start-up venture.


While the Startup Visa enjoys bipartisan support, US President Barack Obama has not been aggressive in pushing it forward.


Meanwhile, Obama’s Republican rival Mitt Romney has promised to put in place an immigration reform system, although it’s unknown whether that would include the Startup Visa.


The news comes just a few weeks after the STEM Visa Bill was scrapped.


The STEM Visa Bill would have allowed foreign students with advanced degrees in science and engineering, from US universities, to remain in the country.


The bill needed a two-thirds vote – about 290 ayes – for approval. But at 257-158, it fell short.


However, Australian start-ups are being encouraged to apply for the Diversity Visa Program for 2014, also known as the green card lottery.


The Diversity Visa Program is a US congressionally mandated lottery program for receiving a United States Permanent Residency Card.


It is conducted under the Immigration and Nationality Act, which makes available 55,000 permanent resident visas annually to natives of countries deemed to have low rates of migration to the US.


Online registration for the 2014 program will conclude on November 3.


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