'Shooting Itself in the Foot': Is U.S. Turning Away Entrepreneurs?

While Americans are divided on the issue of immigration and how laws should be overhauled, most agree that highly skilled immigrants benefit the economy. There has, however, always been concern that such immigrants take away American jobs or depress wages, but experts say that's not always the case.

"I think there's a certain level playing field. A lot of these high skilled immigrants we're talking about start companies, they're making more jobs for Americans," said Dane Stangler, a manager in the office of the president at the Kauffman Foundation, which focuses on advancing entrepreneurship and education.

"If we're going to either affirmatively shut the door or somehow ignore this source of entrepreneurship and source of job creation, then we will be losing jobs because we won't have this subset of entrepreneurs," Stangler said.

The numerous immigration bills in the Senate and House of Representatives have attempted to address this issue but with the immigration reform debate in limbo, few are optimistic that any progress will be made in the near future.

Immigration Reform Prospects Look Bleak, Many Say

The bipartisan framework for immigration reform drafted by Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., proposes that certain immigrants who are receiving degrees in fields like math, science, engineering and technology receive a green card immediately upon their graduation, instead of having to get an H1B visa through an employer.

A comprehensive immigration bill drafted by Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., expands green cards for skilled immigrants and seeks to cut the backlog that goes into processing these visas.

In February, Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Richard Lugar, R-Ind., introduced the Start Up Visa Act of 2010. The bill would allow immigrant entrepreneurs to receive a two-year visa if he or she can show that a qualified U.S. investor is willing to dedicate a minimum of $250,000 to their start-up venture.

If, after two years, the immigrant entrepreneur can show that the venture has attracted $1 million in additional capital investment or achieved $1 million in revenue and generated at least five full-time jobs, the entrepreneur would get legal permanent residency.

"There are those little things that can expand the pipeline without revisiting the giant debate over immigrant reform," Stangler said. "The Start Up Visa Act is a hugely responsible act."

But across the board, there is little optimism about whether such an act or piecemeal measures can pass.

"Congress has its plate pretty full and I don't know if they have the stomach for another big debate," Stangler said.

Immigration reform proponents such as Gutierrez argue that a comprehensive overhaul is the way to go because all the different components are related, and that immigration shouldn't just be about high skilled workers.

That, some say, could be the death of reform for high skilled immigrants altogether.

"I'm pessimistic that anything will happen. Our leaders used all their bullets on health care and this is a very contentious issue," Wadhwa said. "Both political sides agree on the need for skilled immigrants and they create jobs and they are good for the economy.

"The trouble is that some lawmakers are worried if they just allow debate of skilled immigrants, this will pass and everyone will declare success and forget about illegal immigrants," Wadhwa said. "I see it being more contentious than the health care debate. How many battles can one government fight?"

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