Startup Visa – Should you want one?

March 4th, 2010 | Categories: immigration, india | Tags:

Startup visa is a recent proposal from Senators John Kerry & Richard Lugar. The origins of this proposal can be traced back to some prominent angel investors and venture capitalists. If you have been reading techcrunch.com recently, you probably saw a lot of discussion on the related posts from Vivek Wadhwa.

Most of the discussion on startup visa, that i have seen, centers around the value of such visa for american economy. I am an immigrant into this great country and i can see both sides of the arguments. I have seen how H-1B program has immensely contributed to innovation in technology field and consequently spurred growth in US. I have also seen how this program has been (and continues to be) abused by employers to bring cheap – and often untalented – labor into US.

My main purpose here is not to add to that debate. Instead, I want to look at this visa from the viewpoint of a foreign worker/student in USA who is looking at this as a potential opportunity to obtain a green card. Is this better than sticking with current employer and get green card through them? When should one opt for a startup visa?

First up, a deeper look into the proposal and some details

  1. The minimum round the company has to raise is 250K.
  2. The minimum PER EACH FOUNDER should be 100k. This means, that if you have 3 founders all seeking greencard, they have to raise atleast 300K.
  3. The wording says “a qualified venture capitalist or a qualified superangel investor has invested not less than$100,000″. It is unclear if the entire 100K has to come from only one investor. Let us hope not. I think this will be clarified.
  4. In exchange for giving an entrepreneur a green card, the expectation is that their “commercial activities create not fewer than 5 new full time jobs in US”. I am assuming that the inherent assumption here is that these jobs are not h-1b jobs :) . What is unclear is how they plan to decide which jobs are attributable to which founder. If there are 3 founders, should they create 15 jobs? If so, what happens if they create 13? Which of the 3 founders loses their green card?
  5. Next, the expectation is that they would raise 1M dollars in follow on financing in 2 years or generate 1M $ in revenue.
  6. Lastly, if this startup doesn’t do too well, by the end of 3rd year, they  are obligated to terminate the green card.

So, you are a H-1B worker at google, yahoo or salesforce.com, and you have a brilliant idea. Should you try to raise money and go for a startup visa?  I can envision several scenarios which this visa does not address. Usually such scenarios means that USCIS would define them later. This is often unpredictable and can change rapidly based on a lot of random factors. Just look at how h-1b workers are treated today by USCIS. Folks stopped in Newark airport and questioned for compliance! Here are some scenarios

  • If your company gets acquired in a year, what happens? back to h-1?
  • In case your company fails, how many days/months do you have to find a new job and change visa status?
  • Are you allowed to do other jobs while on this green card?
  • If there are 3 founders and let’s say the expectation is that the company creates 15 jobs. If the company only creates 12, you could be the one that is left high and dry.

Overall, this seems like something that’s great on paper. This has been drafted from the view point of a VC/Angel.  At this point it seems way too risky to opt for permanent residency through this channel. I would say NO, donot pin your hopes on this visa. Getting a green card through a steady employer might still be your best bet.

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