According to a recent op/ed from Ioanna Morfessis published in the Phoenix Business Journal, 543,000 new businesses are started in the United States each month, and Arizona leads all other states in new business growth. Approximately 1 out of every 200 Arizonans between the ages of 18 and 64 starts a new business each year. Morfessis writes that this makes Arizona the number one state in terms of entrepreneurship. For this reason, many in Arizona are becoming increasingly concerned about that Department of Homeland Security’s unwillingness to create a visa program for immigrant entrepreneurs.
Last month, a bipartisan group of senators introduced the Immigration Innovation Act, a bill that would increase the cap for H1-B visas from 65,000 to 115,000. The H1-B visa program enables companies in the science, technology, engineering and math fields to hire foreign workers for jobs that require advanced skills. If passed, the Immigration Innovation Act would help fill a growing gap for these companies, who often can not find sufficiently qualified individuals for all available positions.
Some critics of the Immigration Innovation Act are already arguing that the bill does not go far enough. This is because although it would increase the number of available H1-B visas, it does not create a visa program specifically for entrepreneurs.
According to the Partnership for a New American Economy, immigrants to this country are nearly twice as likely as native-born individuals to start a new company. And new businesses are among the most reliable drivers of job creation. Between 1995 and 2000, 25 percent of all U.S. high tech companies were started by immigrants, and these companies were responsible for the creation of 450,000 jobs. Yet despite this, it can be extremely difficult for many immigrants who hope to come to this country and start a new business to legally do so.
Many other countries have programs designed to attract immigrant entrepreneurs to their borders. In Britain, any individual who attracts $77,000 in funding from British investors can get a visa for an initial period of 3 years. Similarly, any potential immigrant entrepreneur can get a visa to live and work in Singapore if she or he receives an investment of $40,000. And in Chile, the government will actually pay some select startups initial grants of $40,000 if they move to the South American country to open their business.
Proponents of immigrant entrepreneurship are calling on the federal government to acknowledge the invaluable contributions of immigrant entrepreneurs and establish a dedicated temporary visa program for foreign individuals who have backing from U.S. investors to start a company in this country. If after two years, the business is still in operation, visa holders would be eligible to obtain a green card to permanently live and work in the United States.