New immigration plan outlined: Startup visa is a go, H1-B quota to rise, tougher monitoring required
The bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators (depicted in the picture) is expected to file its immigration bill within a matter of hours, and with it come major implications for the tech industry and startup community, including the creation of a startup visa, an increase of the cap on high-skilled H1-B immigrants, and quota exemptions for holders of advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math. However, the proposals outlined in a memo ahead of the filing also suggest that employers will have to pay higher salaries and fees to secure the services of high-skilled immigrants, and they will have to be more vigilant in monitoring their employees’ immigration statuses.
While a 17-page memo outlining the plan obtained by Talking Points Memo provided a high-level overview of the proposed legislation, it didn’t provide much in the way of detail about how the new rules would be implemented. That lack of detail was apparent especially in the piece of proposed legislation related to the startup visa, a long-hoped-for provision that would allow foreigners to start companies in the US if they have venture backing. A study by the Kauffman Foundation found that such a visa could help create 1.6 million jobs over a period of 10 years.
The memo says only that the comprehensive bill, called the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013,” creates a startup visa for foreign entrepreneurs who seek to emigrate to the United States to start their own companies. There is no mention, however, of how much money they would have to raise, whether or not they would have to hire American workers, or how long they could be in the country before incorporating a company.
Meanwhile, while immigration reform advocates in the tech industry will be pleased that the quota for high-skilled immigrants is set to increase – from 65,000 to 110,000, according to the memo – that is likely a good deal shy of the increase they were hoping for. Silicon Valley leaders had in the past lobbied for cap to be increased to as many as 300,000. The memo, however, says that cap could increase to as high as 180,000 in future years, depending on a “High Skilled Jobs Index” that fluctuates according to demand and capacity for such workers within the country. However, the cap could neither increase nor decrease by more than 10,000 in any one year.
STEM graduates stand to fare better as a result of the new bill, with STEM PhDs and aliens of extraordinary ability in sciences exempted from employment green card quotas. The new bill would also allocate 40 percent of employment-visas to advanced degree holders, including in STEM, and it would maintain 10 percent of such visas for “those who foster employment creation.”
Immigrants who have been in the US for more than five years can also earn a merit-based visa that is granted on points gathered according to level of education, employment, and how long they have lived in the country.
On the flip-side, the new bill would considerably increase the onus on employers to check on the immigration status of their employees. The bill would require all employers to e-verify their employee’s immigration status over a five-year phase-in period, and every non-citizen would have to have a “biometric green card” specifying their status. Employers would also have to pay significantly higher wages for H1-B immigrants than under current law, and higher fees upon application for their visas.
The outline can be read in full below. The legislative language is due for release this afternoon, with Sen. Marco Rubio expected to file the bill. At a high level, it looks like pretty good news for the tech industry and the startup community, but the full import will be in the details.