Sun, Jan 03, 2010 - Page 11 News List

Silicon Valley aims to pave way for smart immigrants

INNOVATIONThe US technology industry wants the White House to change the law to grant US residency to high-tech entrepreneurs if they start up a company

THE GUARDIAN , SAN FRANCISCO

Silicon Valley veterans are calling for new laws to encourage more technology entrepreneurs to move to the US, as the area attempts to hold on to its crown as the world’s high-tech hotspot.

Reform of US immigration laws is one of the hot topics facing US President Barack Obama’s administration.

The Internet campaign, which has the support of a range of entrepreneurs and investors, is encouraging the White House to back a “startup visa” giving high-tech entrepreneurs US residency in return for starting a company.

The US technology industry, particularly in northern California, has long relied on bringing in talent from overseas. A quarter of US technology companies have ­foreign-born founders, and more than half of all Silicon Valley businesses were founded by immigrants.

The Founders Visa campaign argues that regulations stifle innovation by forcing students to return to their home countries after completing their studies, or by issuing employment-based visas that lock people into working for large companies.

Its proposals would modify an immigrant visa that is reserved for people who invest at least US$500,000 in the US and make it easier for high-tech entrepreneurs to set up businesses.

“We want to make it easier for entrepreneurs to come to the US, start new businesses, and most importantly create more jobs,” the group says on its Web site. “Instead of the visa going to an investor, a startup company founder or entrepreneur who receives a minimum amount of private investment could qualify.”

Brad Feld, a hi-tech financier with the Foundry Group and one of those behind the campaign, said progress had been made in recent months — but the proposal had to compete with other heavyweight issues being tackled by the Obama administration.

“Shortly after I started talking to people in Congress about this it became clear that this wouldn’t be a 2009 legislative issue given the massive financial and healthcare reform issues being worked on in Congress,” he wrote recently.

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