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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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The Founders Visa Movement

Comments (384)

In April, Paul Graham wrote an inspired post titled The Founder Visa.  In it he proposed the idea of creating a US Visa for founders of startup companies – 10,000 / year for founders of companies that are started in the US.  There was some chatter around this at the time (I think it’s a brilliant idea) but then the discussion died down.

I sent the link to Paul’s essay to a few congressmen (congresspeople?) that I know with an offer to discuss it further and give some substantive examples.  I just got off the phone with a senior staff member of one of my congressmen who had read the essay and was interested in hearing more.

This issue has come up over and over again – in 2008 I wrote a post titled Solving the H-1B Visa Issue where I suggested that “the US should grant permanent residency to anyone who graduates from a qualified four year university with a computer science degree.” I didn’t put any energy behind this at the time (beyond a blog post) because of where we were in the election cycle.

Now I’m ready.  I was hit squarely in the face with this over the summer.  Two of the ten TechStars Boulder teams were comprised of non-US founders – two from Canada and two from the UK.  Both lived in Boulder for the summer and want to relocate here and build their businesses in the US (and – specifically – in Boulder).  Over the summer we struggled to figure out ways to get them Visas – all of the proposed approaches were expensive, risky, and tiresome.  Both companies are still trying, but each are now seriously considering returning to their home countries to build their businesses.

I cannot come up with a single reason why this makes any sense from a US perspective.  These are young, talented entrepreneurs that have come out of a three month program with amazingly interesting startups.  They are in the final process of raising their first rounds of financing. Post financing they will be creating US based high tech jobs.  If they are successful, they will create a lot of jobs.  Plus, they are young so they will do this multiple times in their lifetime.

It should be trivial for them to stay in the US.

In an effort to flesh out this thinking, a few questions came up on the call.

How Do You Determine If Someone Is a “Founder”? Two easy approaches: (1) set up a non-government board consisting of credible VCs, entrepreneurs, and lawyers to vet applicants.  (2) the founder has to own at least 10% of a company that has raised $250,000 within the same year as the application for the Visa.

How Do You Deal With Failure? The founder gets to keep the Visa.  Startups fail.  That’s part of the experience.  Some of the greatest companies were not the “first” that an entrepreneur did.  If the entrepreneur doesn’t start another company with a year, then the Visa expires.

I’m looking for more feedback on this as I work with a few people to actually create a movement around this (rather than just an idea, blog post, or essay).  So – if you have positive or negative feedback, along with suggestions about how to make this more powerful as a construct, or more palatable to people in our government who will have a negative knee jerk reaction based on “illegal immigration” or “jobs to immigrants” concerns, please weigh in.

  • David Semeria

    Sounds like a great idea to me.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/pete_warde41961 Pete Warden

    There's an existing program called the Treaty Investor Visa:
    http://www.usimmigrationsupport.org/visa_e2.html
    Unfortunately the requirements are pretty exorbitant for a tech startup, the guideline is at least $500,000 of your own money invested in the business. Modifying it might be a start though.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/pete_warde41961 Pete Warden

    There's an existing program called the Treaty Investor Visa:
    http://www.usimmigrationsupport.org/visa_e2.html
    Unfortunately the requirements are pretty exorbitant for a tech startup, the guideline is at least $500,000 of your own money invested in the business. Modifying it might be a start though.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      Yeah – the ownership stake (50%) is also too high.  But it shows that there is the potential for this!

    • http://twitter.com/julien51 @julien51

      I git an E2 with $100k only (sic). My understanding of the process is that money is definetely not the "most" important : the whole business plan + application + interview is probably more important.

    • http://blog.fairsoftware.net Alain Raynaud

      You are confusing the investor green card (which does require investment of $500K+) with the treaty visa, which is a temporary visa (although with 5 years renewable several times, it's a great status).

      Any citizen of a country that has such treaty in place with the US can apply for this visa, which exactly fits the purpose.

      There is no need for a fancy new type of visa. What would help (and has a much better chance of passing Congress by the way) is to have specific criteria which guarantee that you will receive the visa if [insert your favorite structure here about VCS recommendation or anything else].

      The only problem with E1/E2 status today is that there are no guidelines. It would be so simple to amend the regulations to say that if you can show a certification from some VC board or something else, then you will get the visa.

      Today you are at the mercy of your local consulate agent, who probably doesn't have a good grasp of what entrepreneurship really looks lik.e

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1130204566 Marcel Petrutiu

      The existing program favors Russian oligarchs and alike that come to US to "recycle" their money. That is why the idea of a non-government board would work: they should look beyond the financials, to the founder competencies. It's team due diligence that only seasoned investors can do.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/jim122 Jim

      I have an Australian client that was looking to move his online business to the U.S. He told me he needed to spend $150k in the U.S. through his company right away and was looking to make prepayments to do so. Not sure if this is part of the same program.

      I have looked into similar programs in the UK and they have requirements of having £200k in a bank located in the UK.

      I think the requirements are sizable so as to limit wealthy individuals ease at buying their way into the U.S.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/pupeno pupeno

      That's for investors, not founders. People putting the money for others and maybe they to work, not people getting the money to work. Furthermore, if I remember correctly the 500k is only for certain markets, for the rest is 1m.

    • L2fl

      I agree with Brad on some things such as America's need to remain a tech power house through attracting new ideas and yet and yet disagree with some. I am Canadian but sure tell you, it's very difficult to raise money here.

      Canadian Venture firms are slow and undecided. Angel forums have turned into little businesses where a start-up has to spend it's finances, lets say $600 to present to a group of uninterested Angels thereby funding the AME (I coined it for Angel Meeting Experience) instead of spending that money on building their business.

      I have had discussions with U.S investors who insisted that I should move to the U.S as a condition for funding to allow them add value to my day to day operations.

      My disagreement is; with all the 10,000 plus applications, who has the interests of the founders at heart in a world of "email your stuff and I will call you if I like the idea" you know what I mean?

      Is the United States going to turn into the country of recycled ideas?.. as we have all seen our stuff end up in the hands of competitors having sent it out during fundraising..

      Simple suggestion; why not start with a pilot project to clean up the existing Treaty Investor Visa Program by removing the huge capital requirement? If I had 0.5 Million, I wouldn't need to come to the U.S of A. I would gladly make it here in Canada!

  • http://www.facebook.com/adrianbye Adrian Bye

    This would have been life changing for me if it existed in 1998. I moved to the caribbean for precisely this reason – at least here i'm close to the US, but don't have the visa problem.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

    Would you still consider moving to the US if such a Visa existed today?

    • http://www.facebook.com/adrianbye Adrian Bye

      i will probably move back to the US, but the visa is no longer a major factor. its possible i'll stay where i am too, things are working pretty well.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/john_minnih5395 John Minnihan

    The sentiment of this is on target, but it could (and sadly would, I believe) immediately deteriorate into an easily gamed system where Visas are bought. Price tag? $250k + some back-room deal that we never hear about. For such a system to be useful & productive, it must be designed to be "un-gameable".

    Is that possible? Don't know. Cynical? Admittedly so, yes. Realistic? Yes, also.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/robjohnson Rob

      a 250k price tag plus a vc/entrepreneur panel that must agree that your startup is legit seems to me would eliminate the backroom deals

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/david_ulevi3244 David Ulevitch

      If someone has $250,000 to buy their way into this country, then they have money to spend living here in this country and can buy what I'm selling.

      Immigrants with $250K to burn are not the people that the anti-immigration-reform folks worry will take their jobs or work at a lower wage or ruin our hospitals.

      So moot point.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/john_minnih5395 John Minnihan

        My point had nothing to do w/ anti-immigration reform. It was specifically about this process being sufficiently transparent to prevent / reduce gaming.

        It was – in a word – about fairness.

    • Pablo

      250k is a lot of money. You can try to get some investors visas for less than 100k and they last for more than a year (and are much better than an H1B). For 1m you can get an immediate investor visa, no questions asked, and if you pick one of the "emerging" markets in the US, it's only 500k. It seems gaming the founder's visa if you have 250k is not worth it.

      I don't agree with the 250k number, but that's another issue.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

    I’m looking for any and all suggestions to make this “ungameable”.  Got any?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/david_ulevi3244 David Ulevitch

      I don't think you need a VC panel, just a VC / Angel sponsor. NVCA can take care of accreditation.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/pupeno pupeno

      I would consult an immigration attorney in Florida, they know all about gaming the system.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/john_minnih5395 John Minnihan

    Well, 100% transparency & objectivity of the application process & status would be a great start. For example, any applicant that meets the basic criteria is accepted. Period.

    Removing subjectivity from the acceptance process would reduce attempts to game that part. The tricky part is in the vetting, then. i.e. what constitutes 'meeting basic criteria'?

    As I said, I think you're dead-on right about this idea; implementation details are critical (as you surely know). Something akin to a pilot's checklist is what is rolling around in my head. If items 1,2,3, & 4 aren't checked off, item 5 never even comes into play.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/steve_bergs2127 Steve Bergstein

      I'd expect that governmental / political people would insist on some sort of background check of the individuals. It can't be 100% objective – what level of criminal offense in one's home country would disqualify an applicant? Evaluating a background check seems inherently subjective.

  • http://twitter.com/acrookston @acrookston

    I second this whole idea.
    I have a few startup ideas that I would like to bring to the US. However it seems the possibilities seem small at the moment.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/pete_warde41961 Pete Warden

    When did you go through the process? I'd be interested to hear more about your experience.

    • http://twitter.com/julien51 @julien51

      Last year. From France.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/pete_warde41961 Pete Warden

        Very good to know, thanks! I last looked into it about 4 years ago before I got my green card. The legal advice I received was that the examiners were pretty skeptical of relatively small investment amounts, sounds like that's incorrect.

        For anyone following the thread, here's some advice I dug out:
        http://www.grasmick.com/invest.htm

  • jbenz

    I think it's a great idea. The country needs exactly these types of founders.

    I'd like to see varying degrees of qualification. The founder needs to "own 10% of the company and raised $250,000" – OR – the founder needs to own 33% of the company which is seeing revenue (or profits) of $XXXX, etc.

    • http://www.thisisgoingtobebig.com Charlie O'Donnell

      +1 on that… why force foreign founders to marry a VC to get their Visa? :)

  • oas

    The "gamability" issue requires a more-defined notion of "gaming".

    I'd distinguish between:

    - 'soft' gameability, which is typically like "someone made a shady deal and got a visa they shouldn't have" (regrettable, but part of any human system)

    - 'hard' gameability, which is "if someone had the goal of satisfying every legal requirement of the visa while doing the country the least benefit — or even, the most harm — what's the worst they could do?"

    I don't see much point focusing on 'soft' gameability; the partial solutions are common sense and full solutions are probably impossible.

    I'm drawing blanks on example 'worst case' scenarios for hard-gaming though; I'm sure they're out there but can't think of any.

  • http://twitter.com/vijayv vijay

    as a recent immigrant (naturalized two weeks ago) and in technology I definitely applaud the intent here. also knowing the ins/outs of the current immigration system can add some thoughts or insights from my own journey.

    the investor visa is good, open to being gamed – but more importantly 500K? How many people have invested that much? – also the kind of paper work they seek with details on finances etc are often prohibitive. The people that that visa attracts are people who have that kind of money in their own country and immigrating for them doesnt make sense other than for family reasons.

    I like the 10% idea, but not necessarily with the 250K requirement and here's why. If you do a bachelors or masters (any 4 or 2 yr degree) in comp sci. or other major, you get whats called "practical training" which is a 1 yr employment authorization (card form) to be used for employment for and toward your area of specialization or degree, or similar area. Its going to be very hard for a student who's just graduated, unless he/she is from berkeley/harvard/mit to be able to attract that kind of investment and set up his company in a year. As a relative unknown, with arguably fewer years of experience, it'd be really challenging to get VCs, angels to sign up for that kind of investment. Not saying its impossible – just difficult. Perhaps the "potential of raising an A round or seed level" is more realistic.

    Just some initial thoughts – will add more as you guys respond.

    I do wholeheartedly agree with you tho brad – after 15 yrs, and yrs of paying taxes, social security, medicare/medicaid etc which I wouldnt have ever seen back had I not become a perm resident – I couldnt help but feel a sense of entitlement when being interviewed by the USCIS/naturalization officer. It was like "you know what, after all this, you better give this to me – I'm doing you the favor not the other way around, or I'll leave and start what I could potentially start overseas"….that sentiment will be very common amongst recent graduates and aspiring entrepreneurs.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      Congrats on your recent naturalization!  Great comments – your current experience is really helpful perspective.  I agree that the one year “practical training” isn’t nearly enough.

  • Richard Forster

    I wish something like this did exist I have an absolutely fantastic concept in development (I know everyone says that but it's true!) but frankly to reap benefits of scale it needs to start up in the US and requires the buy in of some of the largest US internet brands and on that basis needs funding in the US and some US hires. So I have a real dilemma because even if it is successful in the UK how do I get it to the US before a competitor starts up a clone and takes the market ?

    • Cookie Monster

      Find someone here in the USA to work it here for you while you work it there?

      • Richard Forster

        Thanks for the feedback, that is an avenue I am pursuing that at the moment.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

    It seems like whatever the existing Visa background check process is should work for a Founders Visa – I don’t see a reason why it would need to be any different.

  • Ben

    Referendums involving immigration/visas are extremely contentious hot button issues. We need to look no further than the outbursts during last night's Presidential Address. That is not to say that reform shouldn't be pursued but suggestion #1 would require a vetting process to determine who is in fact impartial and "credible", that is a subjective process unto itself . And that's before the vetting process even begins. It's an interesting idea (and I hope a movement), it sounds like you have the ear of your representative. I'm a laymen when it comes to the E-2 visa so perhaps I'm oversimplifying this question. Why not amend the eligibility requirements of the E-2 visa?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

    I don’t know enough about the E-2 but it certainly seems like a logical place to start.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com Mark Suster

    Great post, Brad. I dealt with this when I built Koral because we had to relocate 4 people from the UK to the US. All four were highly qualified engineers (1 was actually a PM). It took 3 years to get everybody situated but in the end there are still 3 living and working productively in the US for Salesforce.com. In my view – a huge net positive for the US.

    I brought this issue up with my senator, Barbara Boxer. I felt that she just gave me a populist line in return which I found disappointing, "as long as it doesn't impact US workers." Felt like the "party line."

    You should find a way to co-opt Thomas Friedman. He's written extensively on the topic and obviously has a great podium.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bill_washburn bill_washburn

      We have long heard that "as long as…" mantra from politicians. But doesn't this idea actually propose the precisely reverse idea? The founders visa idea is sure to create more jobs (what better impact could there be on workers?). To my mind this is the obvious political and economic virtue of the idea. A founders visa program is about U.S. competitiveness in the global marketplace. It literally guarantees job creation, economic stimulation, better competitiveness. What more could politicians ask for? Imagine politicians understanding that 10,000 founders visas next year would deliver, say 500,000 new jobs.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/steve_bergs2127 Steve Bergstein

    How different is this from an E-1 or E-2 visa?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/pupeno pupeno

      If I understand correctly, those are for investors, people who have money and want to invest it. The founder's visa is for people with no money, wanting to start something, that gets someone else to invest on it.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

    Good suggestion on Friedman.  If this picks up some steam, I’ll give him a shout.  I’ve heard the same party line from other representatives of mine – it makes me want to go bash my head on the wall.

  • Sesh

    The review-by-a-non-govt-board idea simply wont work. In the boom years the USCIS would receive around 300000 applications for 65000 H1-b visas. What if the founder visa program receives the same popularity. A lottery will work against the very idea of founder visa.

    I think there are two problems here:
    - visa should give sufficient time for candidates to launch and stabilize the company
    - thereafter provide for a permanent residency/ citizenship for founder and family
    - give Govt chance to evaluate the founder. Prevent 'gaming' of the system

    One solution for this could be extend the B1 visa time lines. Candidates enter USA on a B1-visa. In the first 6 months they should accomplish:
    - launch a legal company and be listed as an executive
    - own x% in the company launched

    If they fail to do so in 6 months, they can get an extension for additional 3-6 months which shall be determined based on a case-to-case basis.

    After the first B1 terms, candidates apply for another extension. This time they get 1-2 years.

    At the end of the second B1 term (total 2 to 3 years) the company should be in a good shape to be evaluated or its credibility established. Also the number of such companies will be less so the Govt can handle the work load (for a case-by-case attention required).

    At this point the founders who were so far on an extended B1 program become eligible for permanent residency/ citizenship along with their immediate family. If the founders have to be away from family it is limited to 3 years which should be bearable.

    The govt. is also in a good position to evaluate any questions on if the founders are really worthy entrepreneurs.

  • http://twitter.com/jyothirmayee @jyothirmayee

    This is fantastic. And the initiative speaks volumes of why US is the hub of startups.

    I live in India, in the past have built products predominantly for US audience including a book readers community on facebook (which was my baby) that eventually got acquired by lulu publising.

    I would anyway want to move to US and build a company over there given US is relatively a superior market segment for online businesses and more than that the startup ecosystem just doesn't exist in my home country.

    Recently got a B1 visa to visit US but I was so uncertain of even that given I am self employed, single and in all ways seem to fit a potential immigrant in the view of the consulate. I couldn't have thought of any way to explain the consulate "a regular job" doesn't interest me and I am not going to take away US citizen's jobs.

    I am sure a lot of entrepreneurs in this part of the world would be blessed and move to silicon valley following their dreams of building a business and fortune.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      I couldn’t agree more – I wish we had an easy way for people like you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/verstaen Marc Verstaen

    This is a good idea. But these days, with H1 quotas still not reached, it is not required. H1 applications are going through this year, relatively quickly (couple of months).

    • http://www.reemer.com kareem

      as a non-US green card holder or citizen, you can't start a company as an H1 holder without an american co-founder.

      even if you do have an american co-founder, going the H1 route isn't optimal: if the company fails, you have less than a month to wrap up your affairs and leave the country… or start the startup process again.

      and on top of it all, you can only be in the country for 7 consecutive years on H1s.

      finally, the quota hasn't been reached for 2009, but that's cyclical – two years ago the cap was reached several days after processing opened on april 1.

      having been through this process as a founder, it's a much bigger obstacle / headache than it should be.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      It’s a huge challenge for a new startup to sponsor an H1.  It’s even harder (impossible?) if the founder(s) are not US citizens.  So while this works for established companies, it doesn’t work in the founders situation.

      • http://www.reemer.com kareem

        i transferred an H1 from FIM to eduFire when I started eduFire with an American co-founder. it was relatively problem-free. not sure how a new application would fare, though. plus you have timeline issues to deal with: they accept apps on april 1st, and if approved, you can start work on oct 1st.

        but it *is* impossible to get an H1 if you don't have an american co-founder.

  • http://norada.com Steve Ireland

    Along the lines of @jbenz's suggestion re "varying degrees of qualification" we bootstrapped our Canadian company internally and are now growing within revenue. We've taken no external funding. Since the majority of our clients are in the U.S. it would be easier for us to operate from there (e.g. ever tried to get a U.S. $ merchant account in Canada, it's nearly impossible). Revenues would be reinvested state-side rather than exported and spent in Canada. It's a great idea.

  • http://www.reemer.com kareem

    brad, wonderful idea. i'm canadian and have been through the TN and H1 process working for big companies (ESPN, FIM), and the H1 process as a founder (eduFire). it's ridiculous that i can easily *start* a company in the US, but can't work for it in the US.

    i'm also interested in starting another company in the US soon, and legally being able to do so is a challenge. here's my 2c:

    re: 1- throughput on the non-government board would be a concern. how will busy professionals handle tens of thousands of applications? ideally you have some automated system – maybe a points system like australia has for immigrants (http://www.workpermit.com/australia/point_calcula… – where you'll *know* what the result will be assuming you can meet criteria #2.

    re: 2 – do you want to exclude companies that bootstrap or consult as they grow with the 250k clause? you could have a revenue # as an alternative to the 250k. this would set a high-enough revenue barrier that you'd have to be skilled to get there, but low enough that it's achievable. for example, a talented founder could easily make $50 – 75k (per founder?) in combined consulting + product revenue. if you're going not going to raise $, that seems like a fair requirement to start a company in the US.

    also, i'd maybe bump up that 10% equity share requirement to 15 or 20%. i'd be curious to know your take – how many successful seed or angel stage companies that you know of have had co-founders with a 10% stake? seems low for a founding stake imho.

    re: gaming – @oas had it right, i think. you won't be able to even prevent 100% of soft-gaming, so i'd focus on the hard gaming.

    happy to help with this in any way i can – please let me know what i can do.

    • http://twitter.com/vijayv vijay

      sounds like you've been through the pain too. i know several tech folks who stay on canadian visas and have to go back and forth every so often to get re-stamped. must be horribly frustrating.

      • http://www.reemer.com kareem

        i sure have.

        the worst was when i was stuck at a job that i hated… figuring out the next steps and getting visa ducks in a row was an agonizing 2-3 months. but then, i have a pretty low tolerance for wasting time :)

  • dude

    there are plenty of reasons to not want to live in the US, and the utter ridiculousness and pain involved with getting permission to live there is just one

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

    There are also plenty of great reasons to live in the US.  And – if you go back to the founding principles of the place – I’d argue that everyone should have the ability to live her if they want!

  • http://twitter.com/terrycojones @terrycojones

    Hi Brad – great to see you putting energy into this. Paul G has also suggested the govt should relax the O-1 visa (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O-1_visa) requirements, as an easy back door way to admit more founders. We were talking to a woman who's the special advisor to Pres. Obama about this a week ago at FOO Camp. That could be done in addition to taking the route of introducing a founder's visa class. I'm afflicted by this problem right now.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      I like the idea of extending the O-1 Visa.  Using an existing mechanism would clearly be easier than creating one from scratch.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mosullivan Mark O'Sullivan

    Being from one of the two techstars mentioned in this post, I have to say that it is utterly depressing and silly to be in this situation. Obviously you know where my vote goes on the "Founder Visa" issue, and until something like this exists, I'll be spending a lot of time and money on airplanes, keeping my TechStars network active and growing.

  • http://www.picwing.com Edward Kim

    Also an interesting discussion on this post going on at HackerNews:

    http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=815457

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      Great discussion over there including a bunch of specific criticism of the idea and reasons why it creates perverse incentives.  This is exactly the kind of feedback I was looking for to try to flesh the out more.  Some of the criticism is nonsense, but there’s a lot of interesting stuff in there.

    • http://www.andrewhyde.net Andrew Hyde

      amazingly negative.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/JChauncey JChauncey

    Ok I have no experience with really anything mentioned in this post (never started a company and I am a US citizen) but I wonder if the first part of the qualification process should be a sponsorship from a recognized angel or vc firm? This would dramatically cut down on the number of upfront people who just apply for the hell of it and clog the system with unnecessary waste.

    This way techstars could sponsor the founders of the companies coming in for the program and help them get on track for the VISA.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      Yeah – we’ve talked about this.  The idea of a “sponsoring entity” is a good one in terms of creating a credible filter.  Then the challenge will be figuring out how to “qualify” a sponsoring entity, but that seems like something that should be possible.

  • http://www.meattle.com/jay/ Jay Meattle

    An Investor Visa class already exists (details: http://www.murthy.com/eb5.html) where individuals who want to "buy" a green card can do so by investing $500k-$1M. The government justifies this visa class as a way of create more jobs.

    I don't see why the reverse isn't true for founders raising money to create new companies and as a result jobs and more importantly innovation. The same logic that the government used for the Investor Visa could follow here as well, I think.

    Quick thoughts:

    a) Any individual that meets the criterion of raising $x from accredited investors (funding event should be easy to prove via legal docs used for the financing – either equity of convertible debt) OR $y in revenue in past z months (prove by company tax return).

    b) within a certain time frame of entering the country say on a tourist, business or student visa

    c) owns x% of the company and is part of the executive/management team

    d) should be eligible for a founder visa for x years (H1B authorization follows 3+3+1 years, I would follow the same for this)

    e) as long as the company is operational (using the same existing criterion used for determining company status as used for the company hiring H1B's)

    This topic is near to me, more so since it affects me personally.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      Great, clean suggestion.

      • http://www.meattle.com/jay/ Jay Meattle

        Folks at the USIBC (US-India business council – http://www.usibc.com/usibc/about/leadership) might also be great advocates for this issue since a lot of members likely faced this issue at some point.

        I'm a fan of step changes, as anything too radical too quickly will likely get shot down by the folks in power. A vetting panel consisting of VCs seems too radical. Meeting a set of independently verifiable criterion would scale better.

        • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

          Thanks for the suggestion on USIBC – I’ll definitely look into getting them engaged.

  • Dave Blanchard

    Brad

    I completely support a way to make this work, but there would need to be separation of the VC's (etc) on the board and the actual funders of the company. Otherwise, there is a large potential for entrepreneurs to be manipulated in the process b/c they know if they money from a VC on the board they'll get a visa vs the uncertainty of the vetting process. This would no doubt lead to a depressed valuation from the power holding VC's, whether explicit or implicity.

    Moreover, if the funders were separated from a "vetter", who would want to be on the vetting panel? Would you sit on the panel knowing that you are helping the US, yes, but basically setting up other VCs with foreign talent in startups that might compete with your portfolio?

    Really, as long as it involves subjective criteria, then it will present challenges.

    Perhaps the setup should just be 10% / $250k founders funded by VC's that are registered for the program. The VC's could be vetted, and then could ultimately advertise themselves as able to offer those services to foreign founders. Most VC's would want to offer this, so it wouldn't really impact valuation.

    • http://twitter.com/vijayv vijay

      thats a good point – that happens all too often in existing employment scenarios where the backers or "sponsors" of a visa do yield an untold, unseen power over the employee or visa holder. For this idea to flourish the entrepreneur would have to be free of any and all such bounds and holds, including valuations being depressed.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      Actually, I’d be happy to sit on a panel like this and disqualify myself from funding these companies at the early stages.  In the grand scheme of things, I’d be much more focused on expanding the entrepreneurial base long term than on optimizing for any particular investment on my part.That said, having VCs be registered is a good approach.  We have an easy mechanism for that through NVCA membership ( <a href="http://www.nvca.org)” target=”_blank”>www.nvca.org) – the NVCA is the major VC “industry association” and could easily serve this purpose.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      Actually, I’d be happy to sit on a panel like this and disqualify myself from funding these companies at the early stages.  In the grand scheme of things, I’d be much more focused on expanding the entrepreneurial base long term than on optimizing for any particular investment on my part.That said, having VCs be registered is a good approach.  We have an easy mechanism for that through NVCA membership ( <a href="http://www.nvca.org)” target=”_blank”>www.nvca.org) – the NVCA is the major VC “industry association” and could easily serve this purpose.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      Actually, I’d be happy to sit on a panel like this and disqualify myself from funding these companies at the early stages.  In the grand scheme of things, I’d be much more focused on expanding the entrepreneurial base long term than on optimizing for any particular investment on my part.

      That said, having VCs be registered is a good approach.  We have an easy mechanism for that through NVCA membership (http://www.nvca.org) – the NVCA is the major VC “industry association” and could easily serve this purpose.

  • http://twitter.com/ryangraves @ryangraves

    Brad,

    Maybe I'm selling myself short here, but as a second try entrepreneur (first was a failure) it seems like it would be pretty damn difficult, to raise 250k for two companies the way you've described here…

    Within this rule, it wouldn't be terrible, and this is the process I'm going through now, trying to find an initial 'seed' round, not easy, but definitely doable…

    "(2) the founder has to own at least 10% of a company that has raised $250,000 within the same year as the application for the Visa."

    "If the entrepreneur doesn’t start another company with a year, then the Visa expires."

    But, if I'm understanding correctly, the 'founder' would have to raise another 250k for their second startup almost directly after the previous one fails? This seems to be the part that would make it a slim to none chance, and extremely difficult to take advantage of this opportunity.

    Also, what would be considered a failure? I believe you'd have to consider that if a company was in business for X years the entrepreneur would be granted permanent citizenship.

    Very interesting idea, definitely has legs and I look forward to hearing what your contacts do with this proposal. Good luck!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      Good point – the nuance of “failure” is tricky, especially given the concept of “keeping the company alive forever at a minimal level just to keep the visa active.”  I’m not sure how to solve for this but I’ll think harder about it.

  • http://twitter.com/billshander @billshander

    It's a fantastic idea and interestingly, the people who tend to be most virulently anti-immigrant (the right) are the same people who purport to be supportive of business. There must be a way to get a prominent Republican to support this idea, given the number of US jobs this will help to create.

    • http://www.defragcon.com eric norlin

      i'd bet we could collectively find quite a few repubs that would support this. it might actually be the union folks that end up against it. no matter – let's go field test this puppy by asking our congressmen/women what they think of the idea (i emailed my house rep – (R) Vern Buchannan – today).

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bill_washburn bill_washburn

      yes, terrific idea. really this should appeal to business oriented repubs, democrats, and libertarians too. Why not aim to get a spectrum of congressional supporters/sponsors/co-authors of this bill?

      At this stage isn't there a matter of drafting some actual language? Also, isn't this something that some governors and other politicians would find appealing in terms of economic value generation, etc.?

      Also, since the roots of U.S. economic strength grow in the rich soil of our tradition of strong, frequently rather positive immigration philosophy, I think this is a very important time to reinvigorate awareness of the value of immigration and our global economic innovative competitiveness

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

        The feedback on this post has been super helpful as I now have a lot more information on edge cases along with potential existing Visa programs that could be expanded.  Now that I’m back from a short vacation I’m going to keep on this.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

    There seem to be a lot of haters over there.  I've always noticed it on the threads – a combo of trolls, angry people, and people who think invective is an effective mode of persuasion.  That said, there are some good ideas and constructive feedback. 

  • http://www.defragcon.com eric norlin

    i LOVE this idea. I'm not all that concerned about the mechanics of it all, but that's probably just my cynicism (show me what piece of legislation hasn't been "gamed").

    anyway you slice it, the core of the idea is spot on – and we should all be actively searching out a couple of congressmen (people?) that would be up for sponsoring just such a bill.

  • http://www.andrewhyde.net Andrew Hyde

    Very frustrating to see this happening to really good people.

    Really want to find an elegant solution, but don't see one. This is a great suggestion, just don't see it at scale with thousands of others not getting in to do less glamorous work.

    Funny to think about this group of problem solvers stepping in to help solve their own problem. Love the idea.

  • http://bit.ly/19kduZ Greg

    You could largely limit gaming by requiring that the investors are VC/private equity investing limited partners' capital. That way rich uncles are excluded, and the limited partners act as a check on biased investments. It wouldn't mean that candidates couldn't raise angel funding, just that angel funding would not be sufficient to get the visa.

    I wonder how you could get past the knee-jerk "no impact on US workers" response. It seems doable in theory since a startup by definition wouldn't exist without the founder and the funding event. Thus, there's no existing position that anyone can complain about an immigrant taking. The tricky part is taking that from a thought experiment to something empirical that politicians and public policy types can get behind.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      Good suggestion on the gaming.  It seems that there should be an intermediate path to getting through the rich uncle problem that still allows “qualified angel investors” but it’s pretty clear that’s a big area for this to be gamed.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/jenn547 jenn

    Hi Brad,

    As you know, I wrote about this issue a couple years ago as I was exploring ways to "elegantly" transition my own visa status to a "sustainable" entrepreneur visa classification. Ultimately, I found it impossible to do as someone bootstrapping an idea. Logistically (legally), the TN-1 is the most difficult visa to evolve into a status as there cannot be any dual intent.

    This is a deep issue that touches on more than just visa classifications, it touches on corporate law (LLCs can only be owned/operated by US residents. what happens if they lose status?), taxation (If you're working outside of the US working for your US company, W-9s only go so far), residency requirements, customs and immigration, government R&D grant/loan programs, and so on

    If you want to engage more engineers and scientists, then the automatic green card grant to US-college graduates may keep more engineers and scientists in the US.

    A fundraising / valuation threshold may be effective in creating a market for VC/angel blessings rather than fundings :)

    • Yurii Rashkovskii

      LLC and C-Corps could be owned by anyone, it is just that S-Corp couldn't be owned by non-residents

  • Todd

    As someone who has founded two US companies despite spending ten years on H1 and E3 visa's, I would have welcomed it. Post 9/11, it has become impossible for many people.

    The problem I see is twofold. First, the market value of US residence is so high that people will game the system. The so-called treaty investor visa effectively set a $500k market price for US residence, and ended up with the INS in endless lawsuits.

    Secondly, the USCIS is a creaky broken bureaucracy that needs a complete overhaul and is unable to deal with any type of innovative system. As an example, USCIS is yet to issue regulations on immigration legislation signed by CLinton back in 2000 that was supposed to make it easier for H1B's to transfer jobs without losing their place in line.

    Those two problems need to be solved before meaningful reform can happen.

  • http://rosejn.net Jeff Rose

    As an American graduate student about to finish my PhD in the Netherlands, I can tell you how it works here. They have a special clause in their immigration law for what they call "knowledge workers." I think the requirement is that you either have an advanced degree and a job willing to sponsor you here, or you have provable skills in a sector that they have deemed important. (software development, biotech, etc…) If you fall into this category then your visa is processed in less than one month, and you are awarded residency. In fact, you can move here, start a company, hire yourself, and then apply under this clause. Rather than having either committees of VCs or monetary requirements, I think something like this makes more sense. In many software startups getting funded is not the ideal path to take, especially within the first year, so I would highly discourage a funding requirement. I actually did my undergrad degree in Boulder and I hope to return to start a company with friends, but we hope to have enough saved up to support ourselves so we don't have to take funding unless we really need to grow fast. In the first year we would hope to build a first version of the system and start getting customers. If things go well, then we would look for funding on our terms with a proven product and customers to bargain with. A one year timeline is arbitrary and useless.

    The startups could simply be audited periodically to make sure they are legitimate. It could be as simple as checking out the website, calling the business during working hours and asking some questions, calling and asking for the person with the visa, etc.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      I’d love to import the Netherlands system to the US – it sounds so rational!  Please holler if you are ever back in Boulder (or heading back) – love to help any way I can.

  • http://twitter.com/chrisco Chris Comella

    This is a major need. We may relocate from Sweden to USA, but one of the key people is Swedish. Makes no sense that this should be anything other than easy, but it's not (yet?).

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      One of the TechStars 2007 teams has a Swedish co-founder and that was my first real bout with this.  We never solved for it (that company was acquired – he ended up living in Sweden and working from there).

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  • http://twitter.com/jimhirshfield @jimhirshfield

    We're all immigrants. This makes sense. Why stop at founders?

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  • http://www.primacinema.com Shawn Yeager

    Brad,

    I'll take it one further…any foreign national who receives a PhD from an American university in any of the hard sciences (including CS…because Lord knows how hard it is) goes to the top of the citizenship queue. Citizenship makes the Visa issue moot.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      I’ll second that!

      • David

        As an individual getting a PhD degree in about two years I have a good argument for more than that. It is stupid for you to reject an smart potential illegal immigrant, when you have so much under-qualified ones.

        I think you should grant a permanent resident visa to any person with an American issued PhD degree (or any entrepreneur that has raised enough money), and then leave the person to figure out how to take advantage of it. I think a leader, scientist, or entrepreneur have the internal motivation to seek for her own interest and this includes creating new wealth in the form of business opportunities or inventions. At the end your economy will benefit from the energy of foreign talent (as always but this time with less pain).

        There will be always stupid people, but it is hard to imagine that after making the effort of getting a high education, or raising capital, you will let that blow up easily. There are many average (not to say some dumb) people with permanent residency and all proper documents, and I do not advocate against them. Just give smart people a chance.

        Permanent residency as it is today is designed for the benefit of persons with family ties with an American citizen. You just need to open the law to let talented people to get in without a previous citizen sponsorship. a*brains+b*sweat=sponsorship, you get the idea.

        In the worst case scenario I guess I could marry a nice American citizen :)

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  • http://www.facebook.com/toddburry Todd Burry

    Even with this type of Visa there needs to be a way of making the process work as fast as startups need to. There are a ton of chicken/egg problems with starting up a business in the US when you do not have a SSN.

    We also have the problem of properly earning our income from another country while waiting for these Visa issues to resolve.

    Having some canned legal expertise on these fronts might be an easy solution.

  • http://twitter.com/davidfraga @davidfraga

    Great idea. One comment: I don't think the visa should be tied exclusively to raising capital since many great businesses bootstrap through the early stages. Perhaps it could be funding OR a certain revenue or profit hurdle. There is no better validation of one's economic contribution than to have started a business which is generating enough income to pay wages to others and to pay taxes to the US government.

  • Yuri Ammosov

    Brad:

    This WILL NOT work. VCs demand residency as condition to review your pitch. "I will get it after we close a deal" is an absolute dealbreaker. I heard this this summer 14 times (I counted) from 14 different big- and not-so-big Valley names that I met. Everything goes great, "we will pitch you at a partner meeting" – "wait, are you a non-resident?" – "sorry, deal's off". You cannot even get a lawyer to draft your company docs unless you pay in full in advance!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      If there was a Founders Visa that fit something like the spec I described, I’d happily fund a company in advance of it being formally approved.

  • JasonJ

    The problem with your proposed plan is that letting unsuccessful founders keep the Visa may make the program politically unpopular (read: bad soundbite) and kill it before most people have a chance to digest the long-term advantages.

    I propose a slightly modified, more politically palatable version:

    In our political system it is important to note that:
    The Government wants job-creation because more jobs=happy constituents.

    Therefore, if we tie the problem that the Government is trying to solve (unemployment) directly to the problem that these founders are trying to solve (citizenship), we find that they have a common solution.

    -Entrepreneurs create jobs!
    -About half of Entrepreneurs are foreign-born (http://venturebeat.com/2006/11/15/note-to-washing
    -The public rancor surrounding immigration law has to do with immigrants TAKING American jobs
    SOLUTION: The Government creates "Founder's Visas" which are a path for a Founder's citizenship upon CREATION of, say 100,000 hours of "American" employment (over, say, 5-years).

    Each Party's interests are closely aligned:
    -Founders work as hard as possible to create as many jobs as possible as quickly as possible to gain citizenship before their Visa expires;
    -VC's want a committed founder to grow the company as fast as possible to see if the idea is a "home run";
    -Politicians want to crow about the great new jobs that "they" create.

    To make this idea EVEN MORE politically popular, you could modify Paul Graham's "10,000 American Visas" into "200 Visas per State". This would create "local" jobs for local politicians to show benefits to their constituents–a cost-free version of "political pork"!

    On the plus side to this modification, creating just 100 jobs per year in Bismark or Cheyenne would make the news there, and keep local constituents happy. Creating 100 jobs in Colorado or California wouldn't be widely noticed, though the companies planted there would have a strong local infrastructure and an improved chance to be much, much bigger.

    What is the possible economic impact?

    Rough calculations of a new annual class of 10,000 entrepreneurs trying to create 100,000 hours of American employment over 5 years gives us an attempt at an average of 100,000 new American jobs annually. This is the minimum that each annual class of founders is shooting for. And while some of those companies will never create their 10 jobs/year and fail, others will "go Google" and be spectacularly successful, creating thousands or tens-of-thousands of new jobs each.

    Over a decade, the wealth created by such an outpouring of entrepreneurship could potentially be measured in the TRILLIONS. And all this employment and goodwill toward the government and happy citizenry is possible without costing taxpayers a cent.

    Brad, you are proposing playing a political game, so it is important to give the politicians what they want, and ultimately, there is no reason not to do so. The long-term advantages to the economy, to individual companies, to American citizens and to the potential startup founders are just too great.

    • http://www.acebrandage.com ace bhattacharjya

      Love this idea and in some ways, it's got some precedent. Lots of foreign-born doctors in the 1970s and 80s chose to practice in less affluent states. They moved there because it was easier for them to get a visa– it had the additional benefit of improving rural American healthcare.

      The one issue I have with your argument (and that you note) is that tech startups often need that tech / venture ecosystem to be successful. If the company in Bismarck or Cheyenne isn't a success, the political points won't be there.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/PhilSugar PhilSugar

    The real issue shouldn't be around "founders" it should be do we want to let foreign nationals that have received technical degrees in the U.S. work in the U.S?

    To let you know where I stand on that one I think that if you graduate with a threshold GPA from an accredited engineering school they should present you with a green card along with your diploma.

    What is INSANE is that we educate people and then not let them work in the U.S. If you care to argue that we shouldn't educate foreign nationals….I'll let you go down path, because I think there is more logic to that argument than investing in the most important asset the U.S. has: Human Capital. Don't misread me….I think we should attract the best, brightest, most motivated, from anywhere.

    So I think the whole process (from exploiting Visa holders to providing amnesty for people that blatantly don't follow any rules, etc) is flawed and this is some small band-aid.

    We should strive for better.

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/PhilSugar PhilSugar

    The real issue shouldn't be around "founders" it should be do we want to let foreign nationals that have received technical degrees in the U.S. work in the U.S?

    To let you know where I stand on that one I think that if you graduate with a threshold GPA from an accredited engineering school they should present you with a green card along with your diploma.

    What is INSANE is that we educate people and then not let them work in the U.S. If you care to argue that we shouldn't educate foreign nationals….I'll let you go down path, because I think there is more logic to that argument than investing in the most important asset the U.S. has: Human Capital, and then basically throw it away or worse burn it. Don't misread me….I think we should attract the best, brightest, most motivated, from anywhere.

    So I think the whole process (from exploiting Visa holders to providing amnesty for people that blatantly don't follow any rules, etc) is flawed and this is some small band-aid.

    We should strive for better.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      I completely agree that we should present a green card with a diploma whenever someone graduates with a threshold GPA.  I wrote about that in http://www.feld.com/archives/2008/08/solving-t

  • Michael

    The idea is great but how would anyone be able to raise 250K if it is not sure that you can actually get a visa afterwards? A lot of visas get denied and this one seems especially prone to it.

    I wonder why nobody has yet come up with the E-2 visa? It may not work for all nationalities, but it could work from an investment as low as $150.000 (http://www.green-card.com/Visa-Services/work-stud

    Then, if the founder is successful, there should of course be an easier way to obtain a green card to remove the incertainty of being expelled in case of any failure.

    I like the founder´s visa too though, good luck and success convincing the congresspeople….

  • http://www.4mmgames.com Nick Perrett

    I got an O1 Visa when I moved from London last year to found a company in NYC.

    I think the keys were: you're last company was a recognized leader in its field; you, pesonally were a key part of that success; a very narrowly defined focus expertise to lead the application (even if you're experience, as mine was, is much broader); and to have "presence" in your industry ie speaker panels, press articles, awards etc.

    A good lawyer really helps as I spent a year trying with another lawyer whose advice was essentially poor.

    In case anyone's interested my former company was http://www.image-metrics.com whose VFX work on the Curious Case of Benjamin Button's facial animation won an Academy Award and won a games industry award for Grand Theft Auto. My new company http://www.4mmgames.com was also starting to produce ground-breaking online games. So, my point being, is that the companies you're founding/have founded previously need a good story, but then I think you'd be good to at least try the O1.

    Laura Devine in NYC was my lawyer by the way. Anastasia there is excellent and I'm sure would help anyone thinking of trying for an O1.

    Nick

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      Excellent feedback / info – thanks.  Do you think there’s any approach / option with the O1 that would work with a first time founder / entrepreneur?

  • kip

    Great post. Here are some other hacks that could potentially partner well:
    1. If i get a Visa, my whole family can work.
    Nerds marry nerds and yet go near any top tier college and you have people doing language lessons rather than working because they can't get under a Visa.
    2. Put an extra zero on to the number h1bs and cap on the total number any company can have. I'd take maximum current employee count w visa +15% or 10% as the limit so it's not seen as being protectionist. but allowing competition.
    3. Hack Americas schools in the model of Ireland and India
    We spend more on education in terms of local budgets than anywhere else. Let's make the education more competitive.

  • Al Eisaian

    Great idea Brad, just need some way of keeping it high-fidelity. I came to this country as a high school student in 1978 and barely qualified to stay in the US by getting my green card through some INS technicality a year after getting my BSEE in 1987. The process to say the least was quite touch and go! I was one of the fortunate ones! Majority of my fellow foreign-born classmates (some extremely brilliant had to leave the US after graduation!)

    I launched my first company in 1991 that failed but taught me a great deal about planning. After a few years of working for a global conglomerate and saving some money, I launched my second company in 2001, my 3rd company in 2005 and my 4th company earlier this year. The fact that I was one of the lucky ones to get the right to stay in the US has been responsible for the creation of hundreds of very high-paying jobs here AND overseas. And looking at it purely from a human perspective and self-interested American (I am a citizen now) there is NO better way of contribution and making friends all over the world than this.

    Why would we actively drive away the brilliant minds and job engines of the future is beyond comprehension from me. I am HUGE supporter!

  • http://upasanataku.com Upasana Taku

    I graduated from Stanford 5 years ago. Stanford paid me full tuition and stipend to study at Stanford. I worked with Fortune 50 companies in California yet struggled to get my H1-B with the quota getting used up within week 1 that year. Once that was done I had to deal with realms of docs to get through stages of Green card processing, at this time it seems it will take 3-5 more years to get one, I filed for it 2.5 years ago. I am an Indian citizen.

    My friend who graduated with me from Stanford worked at the same cool Bayarea company, filed for the green card with me and had it in his hand in 7 months! He came from a smaller country which does not churn out hordes of engineers. Does merit have value or quotas and India's population have a higher say on what I can and cannot do in the global business landscape?

    I have moved to India to start my venture so I dont have to worry about legalese and can setup any type of company (not necessarily in my area of education) for which I can hire people all over the world. Is it a problem that I now have a bigger professional network in the US but more flexibility to build a company in India? YES
    That I will have to travel back and forth to tap Silicon Valley networks? YES

    - Canada unlike US gives permanent residence to anyone who works and pays taxes for 18 months.

    - There are thousands of people in the same shoes as me, with one foot in the US and one in their birth country evaluating which road to take to build on their ideas.

    - USCIS is already screwed up very heavy on paperwork that gets lost, ever heard of scanning original documents? Please find a solution that is heavy on tech automation, not another manual process heavy system that takes 10 years to enforce bills.

    Note: Papers I submitted to USCIS for green card are same/similar as those I submitted for H1-B are same/similar as those I submitted for F-1 student visa. Wonder if its not easier to just ask for new papers instead of building larger files for each visa?

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  • http://twitter.com/berkan @berkan

    A founders visa wouldn't only allow entrepreneurs to stay in the US, it would allow engineers in the US with "real jobs" to become entrepreneurs…

  • Doug

    Why just founders? Or people with computer science degrees? I have some very talented immigrants working for me with degrees in math, physics, accounting, and political science, who just happened not to be born in the U.S. Imagine, for a moment, that each state in the U.S. had its own immigration rules and it required a visa to work for a company in California or Colorado.

    Realisticly, free immigration isn't going to happen, but here is a simple improvement: anyone who graduates from an accredited U.S. university is awarded a green card when they get their degree. We allow fairly free immigration to U.S. universities. We educate these people (often at considerable expense to the U.S. taxpayer) and ask them to leave the country as soon as they might become productive. (There is a one year training exemption, which makes even less sense. It says, essentially, "You can be here as long as you're not very productive.") Many go home and create companies that compete against U.S. companies.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      I completely agree that a green card should be awarded with a diploma.

  • http://www.altcanvas.com Jayesh

    It is a great idea. I can give you my case as an example to prove your point.

    I spent last 6 years in US (earning MS for first 2 yrs and doing jobs for 4 yrs). During this time I got bit by the startup bug. I tried to find ways to do a startup on my own while still staying in US. But the only way I figured was to work for 2-4 more yrs for my employer while they get me a Green Card and then ditch them to go solo. Ditching the employer who processed your GC is not what I wanted to do and 2-4 yr wait is way tooo long for an under-30 entrepreneur.

    So about 7 months ago I took the plunge. I resigned and moved back to my home country India. I now work on my own ideas and am trying to build a startup around them. Given the audience of my product and the prospering environment for startups in US, I would still like to do this in US. But these (artificial?) borders between countries make that very difficult.

    I wish the best in your effort and hope that leads to better global opportunities for startup founders.

  • http://www.mydials.com Wayne Morris

    Thanks for championing this as it does seems crazy. We are a 3 year old startup with HQ in CO and a wholly-owned subsidiary in Australia where our development teams are. One founder, the CTO, resides in Australia and we are trying to obtain a L-1A visa for him to move to the USA since he can be much more valuable here given some of our potential partnerships. We have just been told the application has been rejected – we don't have the full decision notification yet so not sure why.

    In this case he meets the criteria of founder, we are funded and viable and it seems to clearly meet the intent of an executive transfer so we are a bit mistified.

    It seems that innovative companies are creating jobs, but there are plenty of obstacles and one that shouldn't be happening is this type of bureaucracy.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/richard_st59861 Richard Stump

    I havent read every comment so some of this mat be addressed and these are in a random order:
    The money component could easily lead to gaming of the system
    It should be written to include a clause that the founder must work full time in the business
    IS it possible that just raising the H1B cap would solve much of this problem?
    is it possible to get this passed they will trade h1B jobs for founders jobs and is that a good compromise?
    if a dollar requirement is included it should include SBIR/STTR funding
    Would a bank loan qualify for the 250K?
    This is actually as much or more of a problem in life sciences
    likelihood of current members of congress and administration (both parties) to understand and get this right is low

  • Chris in Charlotte

    A key to making this work is to have a high volume of lawmakers support the concept. Therefore, you need to have wide geographical dispersion of support if you wish to make any progress at the Federal level.

    I'm happy to work on my own Congressmen and Senators (I'm in North Carolina) but there needs to be some coordinating group with an actual strategic plan at the head of these activities or it'll just be a lot of hot air activism that yields some small amount of gratification and very little actual change.

    I am sincere about doing my geographic part. Please contact me when / if there is action you'd like to coordinate nationally.

  • Ryan

    I will start a venture capital firm tomorrow to offer 10% stakes in $250k-funded venture for $50k. Could be a nice little racket.

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  • http://www.livelovecoffee.com Solis

    I have not heard about this before, but it sounds like a very reasonable common sense approach to bring new ideas and new jobs to the US. I would definitely like to see this examined in further detail.

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  • Max

    Great idea. Thumbs up!

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  • http://twitter.com/jjsnyc @jjsnyc

    Excellent thoughts and very worth project to push forward. Happy, and eager, to help as the political world was one I was heavily involved in and have been looking forward to a reason to re-engage previous contacts for an entrepreneurial worthy cause such as this…

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      Jeff – thanks for the offer to help!  Keep your eyes open for progress – we are now calling it the Startup Visa and have had a lot of interesting activity over the weekend.

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  • Alex

    Brad, there must be a path to citizenship for this visa, otherwise it's gonna be useless and prone to exploitation by VCs: bring a person in US and then manipulate them by threatening to cancel the visa or something like that.

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  • http://www.techtain.com O.O.

    Brad,

    How can one raise angel or VC capital if s/he discloses to the investor that “his or her presence in this country is NOT yet guaranteed?” Would you, Brad, give your hard earned fund-dollars to a person you know may be asked to leave the country tomorrow? Thus, the suggested requirement that the founder has to own at least 10% of a company “that has raised $250,000 within the same year as the application for the Visa”, needs further contemplation.

    O.O.

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  • http://twitter.com/terrycojones @terrycojones

    Hi again Brad

    I know there's now a domain dedicated to this issue, but I couldn't find it with a quick search.

    Something that should be added to the Founder Visa proposal is that founders be exempt from the normal DOL salary requirement that's applied to H1B holders. I don't have current figures, but if you come into the country on an H1B your job title determines your minimum salary (the DOL holds the tables on prevailing wages and these are used to set the number). I remember in 2004 or so the *minimum* CTO wage was something like $130K, and a CEO was higher. That's obviously something that's not at all geared towards startups. So the Founder Visa would ideally not be so encumbered.

    Could you inject this into the proceedings if it has not already been brought up? Thanks!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      Thanks for the suggestion – I’ll make sure it’s included in the thinking.

      The site – FYI – is http://www.startupvisa.com
      />

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      Thanks for the suggestion – I’ll make sure it’s included in the thinking.

      The site – FYI – is http://www.startupvisa.com
      />

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  • http://twitter.com/chazard @chazard

    Brad,
    great post. Could not agree more so i belatedly threw my hat into the ring on this in a post on my blog today.
    http://hazard.typepad.com/hazard-lights/2009/11/i

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      Chip – awesome – thanks for joining the movement!

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  • Tim

    Brad,

    I support this movement. I think that the US could definitely benefit from a more flexible law for non-US citizen startup founders.

    I am in that situation now and my lawyer said that the only way to start your own business *and run it* in the US is by having $100k+ and a strong business plan. With that you could get an investor Visa, found your company and run it in the US.

    If you don't have that amount of money, you have to either travel a lot or rely on another company to sponsor an H1-B for you and allow you to work for another company, which would be your own startup.

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  • http://perimeterinsurance.com/ stephen

    I think this Founders Visa movement is a great idea. We are losing an important battle to India and China in the advancement of math and science related industry. When 30 years ago math and science were the most sought after subjects, now they have taken a back seat to less impressionable subjects. Doing this would allow the great minds of the world to spread and grow their knowledge here with in the US.

  • http://www.theweeklyscene.com/ Brandon

    Sometimes, I believe we throw a wide net over the issue of immigration, and especially these days immigration has a very negative connotation. If we could somehow stimulate the movement of bright minds to develop roots here with in the US and nurture those minds, we could easily become the leader in the math and sciences. People want to come the this country for reason, lets allow it easier for them to make a positive impact.

  • http://adsense-america.blogspot.com Leandro

    Very good information, thank you very much by the article and the quality of your Web site. A greeting from Chile.

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  • http://www.easthailand.com work permit

    i want to know about this to more who can get contact me by e-mail or msn or not ?

    if have pls. post e-mail on comment in this page pls.

    thank you somuch !!

  • http://www.postbox2u.com กล่องไปรษณีย์

    A founders visa wouldn't only allow entrepreneurs to stay in the US, it would allow engineers in the US with "real jobs" to become entrepreneurs…

  • Kendall (@ideasurge)

    Why focus on Founders? Why not just as well let investors in who want to invest in startups, If you demonstrate you have invested OR created value of $250k or more, then you can stay. Indeed, my sense is that we have lots of founders–just not enough brave venture capitalists to help fund them.

    I also object to the concept of measuring a founder by the amount of external funding they have raised. There are plenty of great examples of companies that did not receive $250k in external founding. Perhaps the test should be that if you are a non-funded startup, then you demonstrate that you have created jobs or value worth at least $250k.

    Presumably this would help protect the small business owner that has just as good of a shot at creating and sustaining value and employment as most tech startups I have seen (most grow and then fall and expend significant resources in the process!)

    Finally, I also think that there should be a cap on the # of "founders" per company. Nore more than 3?

    In the end, computer scientists can be hired as can any other employee. I think a visa should be a gift to the person or two or three people that provides a unique value to the equation and was there are at the launch of the enterprise. Key employees can be hired from the ranks of U.S. citizens.

    Let me be clear: I am a big advocate for opening our border but if we are going to make special exceptions to the general rule then let's make sure the test and standards are tied closely to the public benefit: more jobs and more opportunity for ALL.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      Re: focus on founders – the EB-5 visa already provides a visa option for foreign investors that want to invest in startups.  So – that already exists – we are just trying to create the inverse (e.g. a visa for foreign entrepreneurs)

      Re: amount of external funding – while I agree that this isn’t the only measure of a valid startup, we aren’t trying to solve for “all cases” – rather solve a specific case that has high potential for company and job creation.

      Re: number of founders per company – agree – the Senate (Kerry / Lugar) bill limits the number to a max of 3.

  • Dick Beebe

    I am impressed by the soundness and diversity of the comments about the policy changes needed, but all policy changes will depend for their effect on the visa processing level. The experiences of my extremely creative immigrant friends in high-tech occupations suggest that their visa frustrations spring from a lack of timely response to their visa processing, not from the decisions made on those visas. The issue is one of customer service, not policy, in which a visa (and immigrant) is lost not through decision-making but through lack of responsiveness. Secondary issues might include a lack of technology-savvy visa examiners and, perhaps more significantly, a corporate value system in the immigration service which favors minimizing immigration on homeland security issues rather than welcoming it for economic development. The need is for improved implementation as well as improved policy.

  • http://hendrop06.student.ipb.ac.id ndrew

    it seems so interesting..

  • Ganesh

    Brad, what is your best guess as to when this Act will be passed into law? By this year or maybe next?

    • http://www.feld.com Brad Feld

      I doubt it'll happen in 2010 as it's very difficult to get anything done right now AND everyone in Congress seems to be waiting for comprehensive immigration reform.

  • http://drawoahra.com ara.t.howard

    It seems shocking to me, as an insider, that such a proposal wouldn't have more emphasis on revenue generating businesses… getting a few angels to dump in 100k isn't nearly as beneficial (and by that I mean not a all) to the economy as actually earning even 75k in the first of development. I guess I'm saying that trying to correlate ability to wow and raise funds with the ability to sustain jobs seems like a dangerous idea: one more prone to creating a boom/bust technology sector than than one that would actually help level it out.

    Really – what deterrent would there be *not* to pitch the impossible when no criteria for sustainability are baked in?

    Revenue criteria must be included: they are the key to creating *sustainable* jobs vs. just creating jobs. A high valuation does != high value.

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