A “Pivot to Canada” billboard greets motorists near Silicon Valley in California, as the Canadian government tries to take advantage of congressional gridlock by luring talented immigrants with start-up visas.
Though there appears to be momentum for immigration reform in Congress, the issue is still not safe from political hostage-taking. Canada’s pitch to foreign-born entrepreneurs has brought the potential price of inaction into focus. Research indicates that if the United States threw out a welcome mat, the economy could experience a 1 percent to 1.5 percent boost during the next decade, which translates into more than $1 trillion.
Realizing the potential, Canada recently introduced a start-up visa program and has begun a campaign to bring some of that economic dynamism north. A bipartisan U.S. Senate bill called Startup Visa 3.0 has a similar aim, but the first two versions got caught up in the larger debate over undocumented workers and border security. They went nowhere.
The United States has long been the preferred destination for foreign-born entrepreneurs, but Canada, the United Kingdom, Chile and other countries have altered their immigration laws to draw the next generation of would-be job creators with permanent resident status. In Canada, residency is proffered as long as applicants can prove they’ve secured investments from venture capitalists.
This is a strong enticement for talented immigrants who wish to live in North America but can’t settle in the United States because of our dysfunctional immigration system. They struggle to obtain a visa, and then have difficulty renewing it. So Canada is saying, “Bring your ideas, and we’ll give you a home.”
To avoid a brain drain, the United States needs to be able to respond nimbly. That’s why U.S. Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kan.; Roy Blunt, R-Mo.; Mark Warner, D-Va.; and Chris Coons, D-Del.; have reintroduced a bill aimed at people who hold employer-sponsored H-1B visas or F-1 student visas. A total of 75,000 slots would be opened for applicants who can prove they have investors for their start-up companies. The investment must be at minimum $100,000, and the companies have to employ at least two full-time, non-family workers in the first year.
The connection between first- and second-generation immigrants and job creation is long-standing in the U.S. Nearly half of the top 50 venture-capital-backed companies in 2011 were founded or co-founded by immigrants, according to an analysis by the National Foundation for American Policy.
Furthermore, foreign-born students at American universities are more likely to major in science, technology, engineering and math, which is where future job growth will be concentrated. The country is already experiencing shortages in these fields and colleges cannot provide enough slots to meet the demand.
The future of the U.S. economy hinges on competing for the best and brightest in these highly lucrative endeavors. Congress ought to free this bill from the clutches of the overall immigration debate and quickly pass it.