pic-asher.jpgCONTRIBUTED BY
Asher Bearman

Some concerning news for supporters of the Start Up Visa Act of 2011 coming out of the Economist Innovation Summit in Berkeley, last week that could spell the death of the Startup Visa, at least for the next year couple of years.

Many in the startup community have been actively following the Startup Visa bills, which have been supported by the National Venture Capital Association and proposed off and on for a couple of years now; most recently in the Senate on March 14, 2011.  The Startup Visa effort is designed to relax visa restrictions and foster entrepreneurship.  Essentially, the Startup Visa bill would allow foreign entrepreneurs extended visas to stay in the U.S. provided that their companies are adequately funded and creating jobs.  More background on the bill is available here:  Start Up Visa Act of 2011 Introduced in Senate.

According to Vivek Wadhwa, an expert on this issue, White House insiders are implying that the President may only support the Startup Visa bill as part of a comprehensive immigration reform package.  If that is true, it could mean that the bill has little chance of passing prior to the November 2012 election.

Vivek specifically referenced a bombshell that Aneesh Chopra, the White House’s Chief Technology Officer, dropped at the Summit:

[Aneesh] said that the President would only support the Startup Visa in the context of “comprehensive immigration reform”. What this means is that the legislation will be lumped in with toxic debates about illegal immigration and will be held hostage to other interests.

There is reason to be concerned about the plight of the 12 million unskilled workers who are in the U.S. and lack documentation.  But there is a lot of anger and other emotion in these debates. Opponents of comprehensive immigration reform say that it will provide “amnesty” to people who broke the law. Supporters argue that there are humanitarian concerns, and that we need these hard-working people to do jobs that Americans don’t want. Regardless of what is right or wrong, there is almost no chance that this contentious issue will be resolved until after the next elections—which means that the Startup Visa could be Dead on Arrival.

Indeed, I received confirmation from a staffer in the office of Senator Lugar (one of the two sponsors of the Startup Visa Act) that without the support of the White House, the legislation has almost no chance of passage. The senator believes very strongly that the Startup Visa will help keep the best and brightest entrepreneurs in America and create jobs for all Americans. He says that “the United States should not wait another day, and certainly not until after November 2012, to improve our global competitiveness”.  And he warns, “If the White House delays, our economy and job creation in America are likely to pay the price”. 

Read more on his blog here.

Since writing about the Startup Visa bill two weeks ago, I have had a number of readers comment or email me for updates on when we can expect this bill to become effective.  Unfortunately, this is not the news they wanted.  The Startup Visa appears to have some bipartisan support in Congress on its own merits, but an expansive immigration reform bill is likely to be hotly contested and to become mired in political debate.  Lumping the Startup Visa together with such an expansive immigration reform bill could spell its doom for anyone looking to take advantage of its benefits in the near future.