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US woos immigrant entrepreneurs

March 10, 2010 11:45 IST

Photographs: (Clockwise) Deepak Kamra, Ajay Chopra, Ravi Belani, and Karan Mehanderu.Egged on by more than 160 venture capitalists, including several Indian Americans -- the majority of whom are from California's Silicon Valley -- United States Senators John F Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, and Richard Lugar, Indiana Republican, have introduced legislation to create jobs in America and increasing America's global competitiveness by helping immigrant entrepreneurs obtain US visas.

The bill by Kerry and Lugar, chairman and ranking member respectively of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, The StartUp Visa Act of 2010, will allow an immigrant entrepreneur to receive a two-year visa if he or she can show that a qualified US investor is willing to dedicate a significant sum -- a minimum of $250,000 -- to the immigrant's startup venture.

The legislation would amend immigration law to create a new EB-6 category for immigrant entrepreneurs, drawing from existing visas under the EB-5 category, which permits foreign nationals who invest at least $1 million into the US, and thereby create 10 jobs, to obtain a green card.

Under Kerry and Lugar's bill, after proving that s/he has secured initial investment capital and if, after two years, the immigrant entrepreneur can show that he or she has generated at least five full-time jobs in the US, attracted $1 million in additional investment capital or achieved $1 million in revenue, then s/he will receive permanent legal resident status.

"Global competition for talent and investment grows more intense daily and the United States must step up or be left behind," Kerry argued while introducing the bill. "Everywhere Dick Lugar and I travel for the Foreign Relations Committee, we see firsthand the entrepreneurial spirit driving the economies of our competitors."

Kerry said he believes that "creating a new magnet for innovations and innovators to come to the United States and create jobs here and it 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."

Echoing similar sentiments, Lugar said, "Our country should strive to attract to the United States the most talented and highly skilled entrepreneurs. We should channel the power of innovative thinkers from around the world and American investors towards creating jobs and encouraging economic growth and future prosperity."

Among the Indian-American entrepreneurs among the more than 160 angel investors strongly supporting Kerry and Lugar's bill were Sameer Gandhi of Accel, Manu Kumar of K9 Ventures, Deepak Kamra of Canaan Partners, Ravi Belani of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Karan Mehanderu of Scale Venture Partners and Ajay Chopra, of Trinity Ventures, all of whom are from California.

In a missive to all of the lawmakers in the US Senate, the venture capitalists said they fully endorsed the startup visa. 'Fast-growing companies have long been the main source of new jobs and innovation in the United States,' they said in the letter, and bemoaned: 'However, in recent years our visa laws have made it unnecessarily difficult for immigrants to launch new companies here. We view this as a major competitive disadvantage for our country in the 21st century.'

The venture capitalists pointed out: 'Companies such as Google, Pfizer, Intel, Yahoo, DuPont, eBay and Proctor & Gamble are all former start-ups founded by immigrants. Yet immigrants have not only founded major, well-known companies, foreign-born residents made up just 12.5 per cent of the US population in 2008, while nearly 40 per cent of technology company founders and 52 per cent of founders of companies in Silicon Valley are foreign-born.'

They said, 'As venture capitalists and angel investors, we often fund companies at their very inceptionÂ… in cases where there are immigrant founders, it is almost impossible for them to get an appropriate visa to stay in the United States and start their company. Even in cases where the founders already have a visa of some sort, they typically can't use this visa to start a company.'

'As a result, they often have to leave the country to start their company, resulting in a loss of innovative entrepreneurs and the correspondingly created jobs in the United States. [Consequently] there are multiple costs to our country and our economy. First we lose the entrepreneur, who is a critical part of our society. We then lose the jobs that are created by the new venture, which in the success case could easily number in hundreds of thousands over the first decade of the company's life. Finally, we run the risk of losing our reputation as the greatest country in which to start a company,' they added.

Photographs: (Clockwise) Deepak Kamra, Ajay Chopra, Ravi Belani, and Karan Mehanderu.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington DC