A No-Brainer Immigration Reform: Visas for Start-up Founders

by on September 11, 2009 · 19 comments

It’s bad enough that America educates the world’s best and brightest, only to send them home for lack of visas. But to drive away immigrants who come to the U.S. and start businesses is just unconscionable. I hope Paul Graham’s idea for a “Founder Visa” takes off: 10,000 / year for founders of companies that are started in the U.S. Brad Feld has a great column on this today, answering questions about how the visa would work.

As the Economist said on the related issue of H1-B visas for skilled foreign workers:

SILICON VALLEY, as the old joke goes, was built on ICs—Indians and Chinese that is, not integrated circuits. As of the last decennial census, in 2000, more than half of all the engineers in the valley were foreign-born, and about half of those were either Indian or Chinese—and since 2000 the ratio of Indians and Chinese is reckoned to have gone up steeply. Understandably, therefore Silicon Valley has strong views on America’s visa regime.

I suspect the demographics for entrepreneurs are similar, especially in Sillicon Valley, which has long been driven largely by “enginpreneurs” rather than MBAs.

What an absurd country we live in: We accept, for better or worse, massive illegal immigration across our porous southern border as a fact of life, but can’t muster the political will to give legal status to the most creative and innovative from around the world drawn to the Land of Opportunity made possible by capitalism. So, being dutiful and law-abiding, these “Talented Tenth” go home to suffer under the dead weight of bureaucracies even more oppressive, incompetent and corrupt than our own. How sad.

  • mdb002

    I doubt this will matter much. I have a friend, who had green card, leave recently. His business was mostly in India (clients in the US). But due to taxes and the new exit-tax rule change, he always wanted to return home after working, he decided to leave now.

    Immigration is only one of the many factors making America less competitive.

  • MikeRT

    The main barrier to immigration reform comes from the left. The left is unwilling to protect the borders and enforce the existing laws which has caused a negative reaction to immigration reform in most moderates and on the right. Even the libertarian party in 2004 took the position that a true open borders policy is national suicide in an age of easy international travel and terrorism; a libertarian state needs to know who is coming across the border and what they're bringing with them as part of its night watchman role.

    This is an excellent proposal, and if it were combined with a generous work visa provision, enforcement of the existing laws against illegal immigrants and a proposal to make immigrants ineligible for welfare, it would be political viable.

  • mdb002

    I would also add Sarbanes Oxely to this, especially in the case of a “Founders Visa”

  • dave shemano

    i suppose one would have to have some standards as to what constitutes a startup. if two foreign engineers start a cab company, is that a startup?

  • http://techliberation.com/author/berinszoka/ Berin Szoka

    Paul Graham anticipates these questions:
    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.

  • http://www.timothyblee.com/ Tim Lee

    I think you're confusing a night watchman state with a police state. I have no doubt that there are some people on the right who want to forcibly deport around 10 million otherwise law-abiding residents, but I wouldn't call them libertarians.

  • MikeRT

    It doesn't matter what you would call them. There are a number of libertarians like Vox Day who are firmly in favor of enforcement and restrictions on immigration. In fact, some of them like Vox and Ilana Mercer have stronger libertarian bona fides than the average person at Reason or Cato.

    Your argument is essentially just a variant of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy. I don't believe that law enforcement is generally a function of the state, ergo I generally support the abolition of municipal police departments. Most libertarians don't. Using your method of attack here, I would just write them off.

  • MikeRT

    In all fairness to them, if they start a successful partnership like that, I say let them stay.

  • http://techliberation.com/author/berinszoka/ Berin Szoka

    Before this descends into a “More Libertarian than Thou” catfight, let me simply refer everyone to the excellent symposium conducted in the Journal of Libertarian Studies back in 1998 on immigration, in which libertarians came to a wide diversity of positions on this difficult issue: http://mises.org/periodical.aspx?Id=3&volume=Vo

    I will say that the one thing no libertarian should support, of any variety, is large-scale forcible deportation. It's just not feasible, even if you think we should do much more to control the border.

  • MikeRT

    I will say that the one thing no libertarian should support, of any variety, is large-scale forcible deportation. It's just not feasible, even if you think we should do much more to control the border.

    I think that that remains to be seen. The federal government could certainly scare most of them into leaving by rounding up, say, 50,000 of the 10,000,000 and forcibly deporting them. Given the reach of federal law enforcement, they could have that many detainees gathered up in a month.

    I agree with you that it is not feasible to round them up by the millions, but the objection there is utilitarian, not moral. If it were feasible, then there would be no reason not to do it since our immigration laws are inefficient, not immoral.

    The most practical case for controlling immigration is that a free society is not just a sovereign body, but that it is priceless, unique thing that must be valued more than short term gains in wealth. As such, it must be very picky to only admit new members who not only are peaceful and productive, but who share its values.

  • MikeRT

    I will say that the one thing no libertarian should support, of any variety, is large-scale forcible deportation. It's just not feasible, even if you think we should do much more to control the border.

    I think that that remains to be seen. The federal government could certainly scare most of them into leaving by rounding up, say, 50,000 of the 10,000,000 and forcibly deporting them. Given the reach of federal law enforcement, they could have that many detainees gathered up in a month.

    I agree with you that it is not feasible to round them up by the millions, but the objection there is utilitarian, not moral. If it were feasible, then there would be no reason not to do it since our immigration laws are inefficient, not immoral.

    The most practical case for controlling immigration is that a free society is not just a sovereign body, but that it is priceless, unique thing that must be valued more than short term gains in wealth. As such, it must be very picky to only admit new members who not only are peaceful and productive, but who share its values.

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