Startup Visa: Who are Congressional supporters, how the startup community can have an impact

[Cross-posted: http://johnmanley.net/start-up-visa-act/an-interview-with-craig-montuori-on-the-start-up-visa-act]

Craig Montuori is the Executive Director of PolitiHacks, an organization that supports the Start Up Visa Act. Mr. Montuori has agreed to discuss the Start Up Visa Act on this blog site.

 

Q:  Please describe your organization and your role in it.

A:  PolitiHacks makes politics suck less for startups.  We provide services to the nationwide startup community at the intersection between the political and startup worlds, with our first priority being connecting startup founders with visas to create US jobs and expand the economy.

The startup community is frustrated by the political world, making it difficult to make our voices heard on poorly conceived bills, like the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). I founded PolitiHacks to alleviate this market pain.  The issue we’re addressing first is immigration.   It seems like every early-stage founder knows someone who has suffered from immigration issues, while investors hate seeing their promising portfolio companies fail due to being stuck in bureaucratic immigration limbo.

By teaching founders how to hack the political system and cut through red tape, we can get the system working better for the American economy, the founders themselves, and their investors. It’s a win for everyone.   I take in founding teams with immigration issues and educate them on how they can break through the system to get back to focusing on their product and building a great company. I package press about foreign founders creating US jobs to send off to Capital Hill to raise awareness of the issues. I coordinate with and advise VCs and other startup community VIPs on how to have the maximum political impact for the minimum effort.

PolitiHacks is founded on the principle that the American Dream shouldn’t come with red tape, so we focus on teaching the startup community how to cut through bureaucracy to get things done and solve problems.

Q:  Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, along with Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.), reintroduced the Start Up Visa Act on March 14, 2011.  This bill seems like it could create a positive ripple effect on the U.S. economy.  Can you tell us exactly what is the status of this bill right now?

A:  The bill hasn’t made any movement this year since being introduced, with the first step being to schedule hearings in subcommittee.  On the positive side, we’ve gained an additional four Senators (Bennet, D-CO; Gillibrand, D-NY; Landrieu, D-LA; and Warner, D-VA) over the course of this past year.  We’ve also seen entrepreneurship become an issue that both parties are fighting to be identified with, which is a clear win for the community, if we can mobilize to act on it in the aftermath of our success with the JOBS Act.

Further, while S.565/the Startup Visa Act of 2011 is stalled, with no legislative momentum behind it for the past year, the solution it represents has been showing up more and more often on Capitol Hill.  Startup Visa was endorsed as a part of the President’s comprehensive immigration reform in his El Paso speech on his vision for a 21st century immigration system, and Startup Visa gained a high priority slot in the 2012 State of the Union, along with STEM Green Cards and DREAM Act.  In Congress, Rep. Lofgren’s IDEA Act contained an even more expansive vision of the Startup Visa, while Sens. Moran (R-KS) and Warner (D-VA) introduced their Startup Act, including authorizing 75,000 Startup Visas.  Politicians in DC are increasingly aware of the economic problems the status quo causes by encouraging some of the best and brightest global talent to start companies and create foreign jobs and competition, while US-educated, foreign founders are begging to do so here in the US, benefiting Americans.

Q:  Which Senators or Members of Congress have supported the bill?

A:  Direct supporters for S565/HR1114 include:  S. 565   

  1. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA)
  2. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN)
  3. Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO)
  4. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO)
  5. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
  6. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA)
  7. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA)
  8. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY14)
  9. Rep. Bill Owens (D-NY23)
  10. Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA8)
  11. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR3)

However, Zoe Lofgren’s HR2161/IDEA Act containing the Startup Visa Act 2010 plus a new “self-starter” EB-5-like “create 10 jobs, get a green card” provision has 25 sponsors:  H.R. 2161

 Likewise, S.1965/Startup Act also has the support of Sen. Blunt (R-MO), in addition to sponsors Sen. Moran (R-KS) and Warner (D-VA). That bill contains the Startup Visa Act of 2010 with required capital reduced to the levels set by the Startup Visa Act of 2011 and creating 75,000 new visas:  S. 1965 

Q:  What advocacy steps would you recommend to supporters of this bill?

A:  First and foremost, organize. Sign up for Startup Digest, find the local founder groups whose events interest you, and start attending.  It’ll not only make you a stronger entrepreneur by exposing you to startup best practices, it’ll also plug you into the startup network, letting you have a political impact without taking time away from building a great company.  If you want to do more, great!

Invite your local Congressional representative to the startup meetups.  The Rep’s district staffers will attend to meet their boss’s constituents, and the more we can introduce DC to our culture and the frustrations that DC can alleviate, the more responsive they will be. 

Developing a relationship with congressional staffers is an easy 10x hack to improve your effectiveness at advocating for the Startup Visa.  There are two types of congressional staffers: district/local and DC/issue.  For the local staffers, add them to your distribution list for your startup’s press releases, since they’ve got incentives to cheer your successes, as you contribute to the local economy and eventually create jobs.  For the DC staffers, we are specifically interested in identifying immigration staffers for Startup Visa advocacy. 

If you’ve got four minutes, follow these instructions to help.  In the future, others can follow in your footsteps to reach out directly to the staffer and circumvent what I call the intern firewall to make a more meaningful contact.  I offer non-traditional methods of advocating because we’re a bunch of hackers who can have a greater impact by not playing the traditional DC game. We’re small in number but can have an outsized impact.

Q:  Which Senators or Members of Congress need to support the bill to ensure its passage?

If we want to pass the bill before the end of 2012, the House comes down to one man:  Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX21).  Based out of Austin, Smith is the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which oversees immigration.  While Rep. Elton Gallegly is the Immigration subcommittee chairman, Rep. Smith has handled immigration issues personally, as is his prerogative as Chairman.  In the Senate, that role is filled by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT).  The Immigration subcommittee chair is Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY).  Schumer is also the no. 2 Dem, in charge of messaging, making him a very important individual to win over.

Additionally, leadership in both chambers are important ‘gets’ to seeing the bill advance and gain momentum, since like A-list VCs, they signal to other elected officials.  Reps. Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, and Kevin McCarthy, the Young Guns, are senior Republican leadership in the House. Rep. Cantor’s opposition to SOPA signaled that bill’s death in the House, and as the group has reached out to Silicon Valley.   In the Senate, Sen. Reid (D-NV) is responsible for determining the calendar, which can speed up or completely stall a bill. We need to secure at least the non-opposition of his office to succeed.

Some additional Representatives and Senators represent key milestones whose support will show that progress is being made:  Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) has been the traditional champion of the tech world, as a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, as demonstrated by her opposition to SOPA.  Her support would be a key milestone for the viability of the bill in the House, as she is the ranking member of the Immigration Subcommittee of Judiciary.  Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) is another member of Congress who worked with the tech world in fighting SOPA.  He would be a key member to work with in crafting a bill that can pass Congress and be implemented.  Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), currently running for Senate, has been supporting a STEM Green Card bill, called the STAPLE Act. His support might demonstrate a potential coalition around these two similar issues.

2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Rep. Maloney introduces StartUp Visa bill in House to help jump-start job creation in America

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) today introduced legislation, “The StartUp Visa Act of 2011,” H.R. 1114, to encourage innovation and economic growth by permitting immigrant entrepreneurs greater access to temporary U.S. visas. The bill matches legislation introduced this week by Senators John Kerry, Richard Lugar, and Mark Udall in the Senate.

“The entrepreneurial spirit among immigrants is ingrained in our country’s history and success,” said Rep. Maloney. “This legislation will promote our competitiveness around the globe and create a new generation of prosperity here at home by helping highly-skilled talent– wherever in the world it comes from–to create companies and jobs in the U.S.”

“Every job-creating American business started as an idea in the mind of an entrepreneur.  We need to keep and bring more of those ideas to our shores where they can put Americans to work.  Global competition for talent and investment grows more intense daily and the United States must step up or be left behind,” said Sen. Kerry, Senate sponsor of the bill. 

“Creating a new magnet for innovations and innovators to come to the United States and create jobs here will offer our economy a double shot in the arm – robust job creation at home and reaffirmation that we’re the world’s best place to do business.”

The “StartUp Visa Act of 2011” better utilizes existing visas by making adjustments to the existing EB-5 visa to accommodate those entrepreneurs who fit one of three fact patterns:

Option One: Immigrant entrepreneurs living outside the U.S. would be eligible to apply for a StartUp Visa if a qualified U.S. investor agrees to financially sponsor their entrepreneurial venture with a minimum investment of $100,000. After two years, their business must have created 5 new jobs and raised not less than $500,000 in additional capital investment or generate not less than $500,000 in revenue.

Option Two: Immigrant entrepreneurs currently living and working inside the U.S. on an unexpired H-1B visa; OR immigrant entrepreneurs currently in the U.S. who have completed a graduate level degree in science, technology, engineering, math, computer science, or other relevant academic discipline from an accredited United States college, university, or other institution of higher education would be eligible for a StartUp Visa if…
–    They demonstrate annual income of not less than roughly $30,000 or the possession of assets of not less than roughly $60,000; and
–    Have proven that a qualified U.S. investor agrees to financially back their entrepreneurial venture with a minimum investment of $20,000.
After two years, their business must have created 3 new jobs and raised not less than $100,000 in additional capital investment or generate not less than $100,000 in revenue.

Option Three: Immigrant entrepreneurs living outside the U.S. would be eligible to apply for a StartUp Visa if they have controlling interest of a company in a foreign country that has generated, during the most recent 12-month period, not less than $100,000 in revenue from sales in the U.S.  After two years, their business must have created 3 new jobs and raised not less than $100,000 in additional capital investment or generate not less than $100,000 in revenue.

##

Background.

A copy of the House legislation is accessible here. (PDF) 

Visas covering these options would be reallocated under existing EB-5 visa – which grants visas to foreign nationals who invest $1 million towards the creation of 10 jobs. Under a new EB-6 category, a visa would be granted to the innovative entrepreneur with intellectual capital, instead of a wealthy foreign investor who is in a position to buy a visa. The legislation transfers an allotment of the yearly 9,940 EB-5 visas, of which only 4,191 visas were used in FY 2009, to be granted under the new EB-6 category. The creation of new visas is not authorized in this bill.

The investor(s) eligible to “sponsor” immigrant entrepreneurs must be based in the U.S. – with the majority of partners being U.S. citizens – and have made $10 million capital commitments over the course of 2 years, with at least four investments exceeding $500,000 as stipulated in applicable SEC investor rules.

Kerry-Lugar-Udall Visa Bill Will Create Jobs in America

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, along with Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.), today reintroduced legislation to drive job creation and increase America’s global competiveness by helping immigrant entrepreneurs secure visas to the United States.  Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) plans to introduce companion legislation in the House.

The StartUp Visa Act of 2011 will allow an immigrant entrepreneur to receive a two year visa if he or she can show that a qualified U.S. investor is willing to invest in the immigrant’s startup venture.  And in an expansion from the Kerry-Lugar StartUp Visa Act of 2010, the pool of eligible immigrants would now include holders of H-1B visas and entrepreneurs living outside the United States with a market presence in the country.

“Every job-creating American business started as an idea in the mind of an entrepreneur.  We need to keep and bring more of those ideas to our shores where they can put Americans to work.  Global competition for talent and investment grows more intense daily and the United States must step up or be left behind,” said Sen. Kerry.  “Everywhere Dick Lugar and I travel for the Foreign Relations Committee, we see firsthand the entrepreneurial spirit driving the economies of our competitors.  Creating a new magnet for innovations and innovators to come to the United States and create jobs here will offer our economy a double shot in the arm – robust job creation at home and reaffirmation that we’re the world’s best place to do business.”

“We want to establish a way for the smartest and most entrepreneurial individuals in the world to come to the United States and create jobs. Many are already here studying at our great universities,” said Sen. Lugar.  “Helping them stay to invest in their ideas and create jobs benefits all Americans.”

“Our broken immigration system prevents talented entrepreneurs from all over the world from developing ideas that keep America competitive in a global economy.  While I believe broader reform of the immigration system is long overdue, this fix is important to ensure we don’t unnecessarily hinder the innovators and entrepreneurs who will help drive America’s future economy,” said Sen. Udall.

“The entrepreneurial spirit among immigrants is ingrained in our country’s history and success,” said Rep. Maloney. “This legislation will promote our competitiveness around the globe and create a new generation of prosperity here at home by helping highly-skilled talent– wherever in the world it comes from–to create companies and jobs in the U.S.”

Options for Entrepreneurs

 The StartUp Visa Act of 2011 would amend immigration law to give immigrant entrepreneurs three new options for entry or retention of residency:

Option One: Immigrant entrepreneurs living outside the U.S. would be eligible to apply for a StartUp Visa if a qualified U.S. investor agrees to financially sponsor their entrepreneurial venture with a minimum investment of $100,000. After two years, their business must have created 5 new jobs and raised not less than $500,000 in additional capital investment or generate not less than $500,000 in revenue.

Option Two: Immigrant entrepreneurs currently in the U.S. on an unexpired H-1B visa; OR immigrant entrepreneurs currently in the U.S. who have completed a graduate level degree in science, technology, engineering, math, computer science, or other relevant academic discipline from an accredited United States college, university, or other institution of higher education would be eligible for a StartUp Visa if;

They demonstrate annual income of not less than roughly $30,000 or the possession of assets of not less than roughly $60,000; and

Have proven that a qualified U.S. investor agrees to financially back their entrepreneurial venture with a minimum investment of $20,000.

After two years, their business must have created 3 new jobs and raised not less than $100,000 in additional capital investment or generate not less than $100,000 in revenue.

Option Three: Immigrant entrepreneurs living outside the U.S. would be eligible to apply for a StartUp Visa if they have controlling interest of a company in a foreign country that has generated, during the most recent 12-month period, not less than $100,000 in revenue from sales in the U.S. 

After two years, their business must have created 3 new jobs and raised not less than $100,000 in additional capital investment or generate not less than $100,000 in revenue.

Better Utilizing Existing Visas

To accommodate this new type of visa, adjustments would be made to the existing EB-5 visa – which grants visas to foreign nationals who invest $1 million towards the creation of 10 jobs. Under a new EB-6 category, a visa would be granted to the innovative entrepreneur with intellectual capital, instead of a wealthy foreign investor who is in a position to buy a visa. The legislation transfers an allotment of the yearly 9,940 EB-5 visas, of which only 4,191 visas were used in FY 2009, to be granted under the new EB-6 category. The creation of new visas is not authorized in this bill.

Preventing fraud and abuse

The investor(s) eligible to “sponsor” immigrant entrepreneurs must be based in the U.S. – with the majority of partners being U.S. citizens – and have made $10 million capital commitments over the course of 2 years, with at least four investments exceeding $500,000 as stipulated in applicable SEC investor rules.

# # #

The Silicon Valley Leadership Group Endorses The Startup Visa

Following is a letter to Senator Barbara Boxer from the Silicon Valley Leadership Group which recently endorsed The Startup Visa.  The Silicon Valley Leadership Group was founded in 1977 by David Packard, the co-founder of HP, and has over 300 member companies from Silicon Valley along with a very experienced board of directors.

Re: Strong support for StartUP Visa Act (S. 3029)
August 9, 2010
Dear Senator Boxer,

On behalf of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, we are writing in support of the StartUp Visa Act, S. 3029 (Kerry).

As you may know, this legislation is critical to Silicon Valley, as it would help facilitate and prioritize bringing in qualified entrepreneurs, enabling the U.S. to remain a competitive hub of global start up activity. We support the efforts of Senators Kerry and Lugar to create jobs here at a time when the best and brightest can help drive our economic recovery.  Specifically, the StartUP Visa Act would grant three year visas to foreigners who:

  • Have a required amount of financial backing from a qualified investor or venture capitalist
  • Have a commercial business that will generate a predetermined level of employment, revenue or capital investment

The goal of the StartUP Visa legislation is to create an alternate visa system to the H1B program, in which temporary visas are granted to immigrants working in specialized fields including the high-tech industry. Currently, there are 65,000 HIB visas awarded to immigrants and an additional 20,000 H1B visas awarded to individuals who hold an advanced degree. Additionally, this legislation would create a new set of visas that require immigrants to invest at least $1 million dollars in the US and employ at least 10 people.

One hundred and sixty venture capitalists and angel investors support the bill. According to the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA), 25 percent of America’s venture-backed and publicly-traded businesses, including: Google, Yahoo!, eBay, Intel, Pfizer, DuPont and Procter & Gamble are examples of American success stories founded or co-founded by foreign born residents. Further, in 2005, these companies netted more than $52 billion in sales and employed 450,000 workers. In 2006, 24% of all filled patents had foreign residents listed as the inventor or co-inventor.

We encourage your support for S. 3029 and to urge immediate action on the Senate floor. Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Carl Guardino
President and CEO
cc: Senators Kerry, Lugar and Udall

The American Bar Association and America’s Lawyers Support The Startup Visa

The American Bar Association’s (ABA) governing body, the House of Delegates, voted in favor of Resolution 300, calling on Congress to create a new visa program designed to provide a mechanism for immigrant-entrepreneurs to enter or remain in the United States to build bona fide businesses. The initiative known as the “Startup Visa” has legislation pending in Congress that the ABA will now encourage such legislation be enacted into law.

“Immigrant-entrepreneurs face a patchwork of immigration laws which they may or may not be able to piece together to come, stay and build a business in the U.S.,” said Barbara Mayden in her speech to the ABA delegates. “Given the hurdles that exist here [for immigrant-entrepreneurs], many believe that greater opportunity exists elsewhere … this represents a relief well.”

The ABA resolution states that the “American Bar Association urges Congress to enact laws that provide for an immigration classification whereby foreign nationals intending to form businesses are provided a mechanism (such as Startup Visa) under which they can enter or remain in the United States to obtain permanent resident status in order to build such businesses.” This resolution authorizes the ABA to publicly support and advance these efforts to enact this key immigration reform. This support of the Startup Visa was initiated by the ABA’s Section of Business Law and co-sponsored by the Sections of International Law, Antitrust, and Real Property, as well as supported by the Commission on Immigration and the Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities.

“The ABA represents a key voice of the legal community,” said Eric Koester, an author of the Startup Visa resolution. “We recognize that the Startup Visa initiative is crucial to help America continue its place as the center of entrepreneurship and technology. While there is certainly more work to be done to get this enacted, another ally has lined up behind the Startup Visa movement.”

With nearly 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.

Download a copy of the ABA’s resolution and report on the Startup Visa or replay the speech in support of the Startup Visa to the ABA by Barbara Mayden, the representative of the Section of Business Law.

The Story of an Immigrant Entrepreneur

Passageways Inc. is the 27th fastest growing software company in the United States. Based in Purdue University’s Research Park, the company employs 28 people (including 24 US citizens), has over 200 customers and contributes significantly to the local and state economy. Paroon Chadha was one of the two co-founders of the company, and his story is indicative of the issues faced by immigrant entrepreneurs across the country.

“I came to the US in 1999 for an MBA, which is where I met my fellow co-founder, Christopher Beltran. Together we started working on the first business plan for Passageways. Almost immediately, the idea took off. We won at a prestigious business plan competition at Purdue University in my first year, and got convinced to pursue this opportunity full-time after school.

However, my visa situation was tenuous. After graduation, I was allowed to work for a year on this project, after which I would have to get sponsorship from another employer for my H-1B visa. All initial discussions with potential investors were tainted by this uncertainty. To delay the start of the 1 year ticking clock, I took a year off from school as well.

Purdue Employees Federal Credit Union became our first paying customer. In fact, they were so impressed with the product that they agreed to invest $100,000 in our company as seed funding. We spent thousands of dollars of our precious seed capital to explore visa opportunities that would enable me to start my own company, but our attorneys came up empty.

Finally, we worked out a compromise. As part of the Operating Agreement, Purdue EFCU took majority ownership of my business and agreed to sponsor my H-1B application. The Operating agreement allowed for transferring back some equity to me (and Christopher) on meeting certain milestones.”

Paroon’s story is replicated across the country, as bright students continue to try and start their own businesses, only to stumble when it comes to getting a visa. Passageways has been profitable for 5 years running, and was recently named amongst the 50 companies to watch in Indiana. While Paroon was able to trade ownership in the business for a visa sponsorship, this hurdle is too difficult for several others to overcome.

“In 2004, Passageways applied for permanent residency for me, and I finally received my green card this year. For years, our annual strategic meetings listed my lack of permanent residency as amongst the top business risks for our company. It took me 7 years, 4 trips outside of the country solely to get visa renewals, and countless hours spent resolving paperwork that could have been spent focusing on growing my business.

I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I have seen several other startups fall by the way side as they try and resolve the founder visa issue. This country is the only place where a business like mine could be so successful so fast. However, the immigration laws made it harder, and not easier, for me to achieve my entrepreneurial objectives.”