The Path to Startup Visas in America

Tahmina Watson is the founding attorney at Watson Immigration Law, author of The Startup Visa, and host of The Startup Visa podcast.

There are many issues of immigration that are controversial and divisive, but one item has always had bipartisan support and that is the startup visa. In fact, an entry visa has just passed through both the House and Senate by the America COMPETES Act of 2022, allowing them to negotiate and finalize a bill quickly. From 2009 to 2022, we’ve had numerous visa bills that failed to pass the law. It’s been a long time since we have a visa like this.

To give some context, in 2009 the first idea for a starter visa was: introduced in Congress as part of a bill that combined other immigration issues. Inspired by that bill and other factors, the first stand-alone startup visa invoice was introduced in 2010 by former Senator John Kerry, DM.A., and Senator Richard Lugar, RI.N. It created a path specially designed for international founders.

Building on that, bipartisan support grew as new bills were introduced year after year, including the Startup Visa Act of 2011, the Startup Act 2.0 in 2012, the Attracting and Retaining Entrepreneurs Act in 2016 and the Startup Acts in 2017 and 2019.

Beyond the shores of America, the idea of ​​2009 quickly sparked interest, and in 2010, Chilean Start-up Visa was created. It was the first of its kind in the world and has inspired similar programs around the world. To date, about 30 countries have implemented some version of a startup visa. Canada recently implemented too their own startup visa, therefore, they are now one of the prime destinations for entrepreneurs from all over the world.

Why is an entry visa important? Startups are not just technology companies, but they cover all sectors. The pandemic has accelerated the visibility of startups and the impact they can have on chronic problems with new solutions. The pandemic also popularized new networks (think Whatsapp or Zoom) for founders to pitch online to US investors, which was previously unimaginable. Therefore, it is no longer necessary to be in the US to get financing for your business. That said, being in the US is still seen as the holy grail for startups to get the funding, resources, and success that can spread across the globe.

Amid the lockdown, investors found that investing abroad through virtual meetings became a requirement to be part of innovation during the pandemic. And as such, more and more American iinvestors open funds abroad in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa

Our resources make America a fertile ground for nurturing innovative ideas. The ease of building and running companies with big visions, mentorship and consumers are why American companies are household names worldwide – everything from Bose to Levi’s jeans. But we see the shift in economic power right before our very eyes. Countries in South and Southeast Asia, the Middle Eastt and Africa are booming in their economies due to startups.

Business leaders in Canada have certainly seen the benefits of their startup visa. A list of designated organizations that support startups including incubators, angel investors and venture capital firms has grown steadily over the years. The growth reflects both the economic gains for companies and the program itself. We can have that in the US too. But right now we are facing an economic deficit in America. We must innovate and reform.

To support such reforms, policymakers, business and industry leaders, as well as investors, need to come together and work together. Some of the actions may include sharing stories with their congressional representatives and writing letters to the editor or op-eds. Market leaders have unique perspectives on how innovative startups have improved their own businesses. And investors, be it angels or venture capital firms, have direct knowledge of the talented minds they see outside of the US.

Other stories investors can share include those about their founders, innovations, business hardships caused by immigration challenges, and how such barriers ripple loss in the startup ecosystem. Ultimately, it is the American consumer and economy that wins if companies can be successful.

When the first European settlers moved from persecution to the shores of the Americas, innovation helped build the economy. Our founding fathers saw America as the land of dreams. It’s still. But to keep things the same for our kids, we need to keep talented minds coming to the US. After 13 years of different bills with bipartisan support, but no real progress, we can’t afford to wait another decade. Soon it will be too late to catch up. Now is the time to pass a Startup Visa for the future of our country. Business Council is the leading growth and networking organization for entrepreneurs and leaders. Am I eligible?

Shreya Christina
Shreya has been with for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider team, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

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