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06TH May 2011

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Nerd Alert: Tech visas mean more tech jobs!


Ranjit & Chad. We NEED these guys. (generalization)

One thing I hear month after month at the Next American Economy thinktank breakfast is, “Where are the Jobs Jobs Jobs? “Seems like a giant game of peekaboo.

I have seen scary Powerpoint slides from David Autor (MIT) and Dane Stangler (Kaufman Foundation) about not only the dearth of new jobs, but the dearth of the new businesses that create most of them. (“Dearth” is a double credit word in Scrabble). I touched on this same issue in a previous post Stuck in the Middle with You.

Nobel Laureate Michael Spence and Sandile Hlatshwayo note that the American economy has seen the lower and middle components of the value-added chain moving to the rapidly growing markets abroad and warn that soon, higher-paying jobs may follow low-paying jobs in leaving the United States.

The actions of the free market have made goods less expensive for Americans, but the free flow of labor and capital has also diminished the employment opportunities available in the United States and will, the authors warn, continue to do so at all levels of society. While Spence and Hlatshwayo acknowledge that there’s no simple policy fix to improve the trade-off between inexpensive goods and diminished domestic job opportunities, they argue that given the political policymakers must tackle this enormous question of inequality and economic distribution.

I’ve got a suggestion. Rather than lament our long slide into global parity, let’s do something that will arrest the dive: issue more H1B Visas.

Years ago, super angel Brad Feld was a guest on my show, MoneyHunt, and between filming takes, we talked about how America’s new job creation engine would be pinched by access to tech talent. Wow, was he right (many of Brad’s words follow). As is typical in Washington, the issue bounced around for a decade until Senators Kerry (D-MA), Lugar (R-IN) and Udall (D-CO) unveiled the Startup Visa Act of 2011. This is an updated version of the Startup Visa bill from last year that is aimed at making it much easier for foreign entrepreneurs who want to start a company in the US to get a visa. Today, this process is incredibly difficult and has been stifling the creation of new companies and the corresponding job creation that these companies provide.

The Startup Visa Act of 2011 has several significant improvements over last years bill.

  • Lowered, More Realistic Thresholds: The minimum investment has been lowered to $100,000. This is more in line with a larger number of startup companies.
  • Broadened Qualifications to Include H-1B or Students with Advanced Degrees: Entrepreneurs already in the US on an unexpired H-1B or those who have completed a graduate level degree in science, technology, engineering, math, computer science are eligible to apply as long as they have either an annual income of $30,000 or assets of at least $60,000 and a qualified US investor has agreed to invest at least $20,000. This opens up the Startup Visa to students after they graduate, which is a huge thing.
  • Entrepreneurs Who Want to Relocate: Entrepreneurs whose companies are based outside the US can now relocate as long as their businesses have generated at least $100,000 in sales in the US.

Every student that graduates with an advanced STEM or computer science degree should have a green card stapled to his or her diploma. It makes no sense to me that we’d make it difficult for the best and the brightest to stay in the US if they want. If you are a supporter of the Startup Visa, go to the Startup Visa web site and send a message to Congress about this right now!

Are these imports taking American jobs? Not so much. Not enough Americans write code, so we need more resources. (Ironically enough, not enough Americans mow lawns anymore either, so apparently we need to import folks for that too. But that’s a rant for another blog). As for me, I haven’t mowed a lawn for years, and I can write only one line of HTML. More H1B entrepreneurs would at least solve one of the problems.

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