If you are an entrepreneur, you are told to think big and go international. You are used to the “borderless” internet opportunities. You work in the open startup ecosystem where your ambition can brake many barriers. You aim for investment and acceleration programs from different corners of the world.
And suddenly you hit the wall of national laws, immigrant difficulties and oh…the need of a visa (in case you want to settle in a different country than yours).
Startup Visa in the US – Work in progress political moves
Silicon Valley entry-ticket
The most craved startup hub in the world nowadays, Silicon Valley, cannot help much immigrant founders, although they represent a big share of the startup founders there. Sure you can get some temporary business visas, but it is costly, complicated and risky.
So you might have studied there, you might have been to a local accelerator (for which you probably have to figure out the temporary visa on your own – for example, Y Combinator doesn’t help its applicants with the visa), you might have local investment, but you are still in trouble to get your visa to run the company there.
“I started my day in a board meeting with one of our companies that was started in Europe. It turns out one of the founders of that company, one that is growing and hiring in the US, cannot get back into the states right now because of a Visa issue.” Fred Wilson, Managing Partner at Union Square Ventures.
“Two of the ten TechStars Boulder teams were comprised of non-US founders – two from Canada and two from the UK. Both lived in Boulder for the summer and want to relocate here and build their businesses in the US (and – specifically – in Boulder). Over the summer we struggled to figure out ways to get them Visas – all of the proposed approaches were expensive, risky, and tiresome. Both companies are still trying, but each are now seriously considering returning to their home countries to build their businesses.” Brad Feld, Co-Founder of TechStars
Immigrant founders started to quit on the US
For the first time in decades, the number of immigrant-founded startups is dropping, as foreign-born entrepreneurs struggle with the visas and decide to launch companies in other countries that offer perks to start businesses there, according to a report last year by the Kauffman Foundation.
A visa-free alternative is being build
An alternative is being build by BlueSeed – a huge co-working space on a ship 30 min away from Silicon Valley and outside the jurisdiction of the US (which translates into: you don’t need any visa). But that is supposed to be ready in at least one year from now.
Barack Obama suggests to Congress to open Startup Visa
A Startup Visa Movement started years ago, backed by well-known American investors, offering their help with selecting the entrepreneurs who would deserve it.
Some good news might come though: a few days ago (on 29th Jan) US President, Barack Obama, “called on Congress to create a special visa category that allows foreign-born entrepreneurs who launch successful startups to remain in the country.” as mentioned in HuffingtonPost. Of course, this will come with conditions: to raise a minimum amount of investment and to employ a a minimum number of people in the US. But of course it is still a debate, and the results (if positive) will take a while to arrive.
Cannot believe how protective politicians are still, when we think we live in a free market. “Opponents argue that temporary visas allow immigrants to take jobs away from capable Americans, depress wages and discourage American-born students from entering high-tech careers. But advocates argue that creating additional visas for immigrant entrepreneurs instead create more jobs by allowing foreign-born founders to grow their companies in the United States.” says Huffington Post.
Startup Visa in Canada – Program to start on 1st April 2013
Approved and to start soon
This move of Obama might be related to the Canadian news a few days in advance (24th Jan): Canada will have starting with 1st April 2013 a Startup Visa Program, aiming to make the country a destination of choice for the world’s best entrepreneurs and thus becoming competitive in a global economy, according to Reuters.
“Under this program, would-be immigrants would require the support of a Canadian venture capital fund or angel investor group (for now, they are Canada’s Venture Capital & Private Equity Association and the National Angel Capital Organization), which would invest in new companies started by the immigrants. Once candidates for the program are identified by these groups, the government would try to clear them for entry into Canada within weeks.” says Reuters. Their only requirement after passing the investors’ selection is that the founder hires one person for one year.
Alternative for Silicon Valley wanna-be founders
This could be an interesting option for immigrant founders, especially knowing that the active startup hub, Vancouver, is just about 2 hours away by plane from San Francisco (for prices starting with 150 dollars).