Proposed US law would grant 125,000 more business green cards a year

A group of four senators has proposed a new law that would see the US government grant 125,000 more employment-based green cards each year. The Startup Act 3.0 would grant 75,000 green cards (properly known as lawful permanent residence) annually to immigrants who start up companies and a further 50,000 to graduates from US universities with advanced science and engineering degrees.The act has been introduced in the Senate by Republicans Jerry Moran of Kansas and Roy Blunt of Montana and Democrats Mark Warner of Virginia and Chris Coons of Delaware. It is one of several bills being introduced in congress by Congressmen and women of both main political parties, often in cooperation with each other.

'A coup for the economy'

Vivek Wadhwa is a US academic and entrepreneur who was born in India. He is a well-known advocate of reform of the US skilled immigration system. He is enthusiastic about the Startup Act 3.0. 'I love it basically,' he said, according to The San Jose Mercury News, a Silicon Valley newspaper (Silicon Valley is the hi-tech centre for internet innovation near San Francisco, California). 'If we get this through, it will be quite a coup for the economy' he said.

If it becomes law, every year the Startup Act 3.0 will allow 75,000 entrepreneurs who attract $100,000 of start-up capital investment and use it to create a business that employs at least 5 people for three years to apply for a US green card. It will also allow 50,000 immigrant graduates with higher degrees in subjects such as sciences, technology, engineering and maths to apply for green cards each year.

Harder for 'innovators' to stay in US

Mr Wadhwa says that the bill must be passed quickly. He said that Silicon Valley needs highly skilled entrepreneurs and software engineers from around the world and he adds that the current system prevents these highly skilled people from getting a green card. 'We're making it harder for innovators to come and stay', he said. Steve Case, the founder of AOL is also backing the bill. Mr Wadhwa says that immigrants were responsible or partly responsible for 52% of internet startups in the US between 1995 and 2005. The fact that the US immigration system is now preventing many foreign workers who came to the US from getting green cards means that this proportion has now fallen to 42%.

Mr Wadhwa is concerned about what might happen if the Startup Act 3.0 did not become law. There may also be delays because reform of the skilled immigration system may only happen in conjunction with broader immigration reform.

Since his re-election in November, President Obama has called for comprehensive immigration reform by the end of 2013. A group of eight senators (four Republican and four Democrat) known as the gang of eight have worked out a framework for an act that would reform the immigration system as a whole. In the US, when people talk about immigration, the major issue is that of illegal immigration largely from Mexico. The Pew Hispanic Center has estimated that there are some 11m immigrants living illegally in the US today. Comprehensive reform would therefore have to provide for a strengthening of border security and address the issue of 'a pathway to citizenship' for the 11m people living illegally in the US.

Silicon Valley being held hostage

Mr Wadhwa says that Silicon Valley should not be held 'hostage' while Congress decides on reform of the entire system and the rights of illegal immigrants. 'We have people fighting for the undocumented, unskilled workers who are holding Silicon Valley hostage. I agree with the cause, but I don't agree that we should keep Silicon Valley hostage', he said.

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