Recent articles in “The Economist” point out the fact that America is losing its competitive advantage when it comes to attracting global talent. Countries such as Canada, Australia, and Singapore are making it easier for foreign nationals to enter and set up a business. In America, the immigration process is rife with inconvenience and uncertainty. The number of visas available for skilled workers, or H1-Bs, has decreased from 100,000/year in 1999 to 65,000/year. Green Card processing time has increased from as little as 18 months in the 1980s to up to 10 years. Unlike other countries who have special visa categories for entrepreneurs, America has no such entrepreneurial visa.
Even Chile is doing more to attract global talent. The small Latin-American nation has a new program, called Start-up Chile, that selects young firms and gives their founders the equivalent of $40,000 and a visa for one year. The idea is to raise Chile’s profile as a hub for entrepreneurs and to foster entrepreneurialism among Chileans. The program aims to bankroll 1,000 new companies by the end of next year. Does anything like this exist in the United States? No.
There are some options but they are circuitous and difficult, and there is never a guarantee of success. One is the H1-B visa. This visa is for skilled workers who are hired by U.S. companies. But it is temporary and it’s validity is tied to the applicant’s original job. If an H1-B immigrant wishes to apply for permanent residency they must keep their original job while they wait for their Green Card to be issued, which can take up to 10 years. If the immigrant finds a better opportunity or wishes to start a new business they lose their H1-B status.
Another option for enterprising foreigners is the E2 Investor Visa. To qualify, a prospective immigrant must invest a “significant” amount of money in an existing business or start a new business that promises to support the immigrant and employ Americans. This is a good option for entrepreneurs but not every immigrant with a good idea has enough capital to start a new business upon arrival in the U.S. In contrast, Start-up Chile is lending capital to promising companies upon arrival.
In today’s global economy, powered by the internet, businesses can serve their customers from anywhere. Entrepreneurs are searching globally for attractive locations for their start-ups. Basic infrastructure, peace, and a relatively wealthy and educated population are all elements for prosperity that make the United States attractive to foreign investors and entrepreneurs. But our complicated immigration system is turning into a disadvantage, especially as other nations with the same basic elements for prosperity are making it easier to immigrate there and start a business. The United States should do more to enable foreign entrepreneurs to see their dreams come true here.