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Welcome Immigrant Entrepreneurs!

Article by John Prestbo February 13, 2013 //   3 minute read

For a nation of immigrants, U.S. immigration policy is in sore need of an overhaul. In particular, the policy regarding foreigners who come to our shores to create businesses requires a fresh look if we are to reach our goal of accelerating the country’s economic growth to 4% annually.

A recent Op-Ed essay in The Wall Street Journal pinpoints the problem: “The United States — unlike Chile, Britain, Singapore, New Zealand and other countries — does not have a visa category for immigrants who aspire to found companies and create jobs.” The author, Alexandra Starr, tells the story of an Argentinian man, Pablo Ambram, who came here to start a company, but had to leave after six months when his tourist visa expired. Ambram subsequently set up his business in Chile, where he has raised more than $300,000 in capital and has hired four employees.

Legislative bills to correct the problem have been introduced in Congress with bipartisan support, but they haven’t gone anywhere. “If Congress does move on the matter,” Ms. Starr writes, “lawmakers would be wise to stipulate that visa-granting decisions take into account advice from the existing start-up ecosystem — venture-capitalists and business incubators — rather than giving the task solely to immigration adjudicators, who would be less well-equipped to identify deserving recipients.”

According to the essay, there is a venture under way to station a cruise ship 12 miles off the coast from San Francisco and populate it with foreign entrepreneurs developing business ideas for the U.S. market. Living beyond the 12-mile limit would allow these entrepreneurs to sidestep the visa problems.

Andrew Carnegie must be twirling in his grave that such extreme workarounds are needed to put out the welcome mat for foreigners to start businesses here. In “The 4% Solution,” Pia M. Orrenius and Madeline Zavodny write that an “immigration policy geared toward economic growth would favor skill-based immigration or employment-based immigration.” They note that immigrants “are nearly 30% more likely to start a business than natives.” Let’s change the rules to invite anyone with a commercial vision and ambition into the biggest market on the planet.