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Work Visas in U.S. Elude Entrepreneurs

"The EB-5 is the opposite of what we want; it's a visa for a foreign investor," Feld says. "We want a foreign entrepreneur to get a visa." The U.K. launched an entrepreneurship visa category last year. Canada has a similar program for entrepreneurs who can show access to at least C$300,000 in capital.

Feld says immigration reform is hardly the federal government's top concern right now but notes that the visas-for-startups movement is getting Congressional attention. U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) has been a strong proponent of a startup visa, making sure the category was included in the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity Act of 2009 (CIR ASAP), which was introduced last month. The StartupVisa.com team is working on Senate sponsorship as well.

Immigrants founded 7,000 technology companies between 1995 and 2006, according to The Kauffman Foundation. During that time, about 25% of tech companies in the U.S. had founders from other countries. In California's Silicon Valley, half of new tech companies were launched by immigrants. Companies started by immigrants accounted for 10% of new jobs during that period, according to Kauffman. Immigrants represent 16.7% of all new business owners in the U.S. and are nearly 30% more likely to start a business than are native-born citizens, according to the Small Business Administration.

"They immediately start hiring U.S.-based employees," Feld says. "This is a job-creation program for U.S. citizens."

-- Reported by Carmen Nobel in Boston.

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