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Change Generation

How A Startup Visa For Immigrants Could Create Jobs For Americans

Many countries open their doors to would-be entrepreneur immigrants. Is it time America joined in?

How A Startup Visa For Immigrants Could Create Jobs For Americans

[Illustrations: Goettingen/iStock]

What do Kraft, Ford, General Electric, Procter & Gamble, AT&T, Mattel, Google, McDonald’s, Heinz, Home Depot, Hertz, Estée Lauder, UPS, Boeing, and Disney have in common, apart from being highly successful businesses? Answer: they were all started by immigrants.

In fact, immigrants are about twice as likely to start new businesses as native-born Americans, research from the Kauffman Foundation shows. About 40% of Fortune 500 companies were either started by immigrants or the children of immigrants, the think tank says. Which, of course, bolsters the case of supporting immigration, rather than decrying it.

Kauffman argues that personal characteristics required to set up in a foreign country are similar to the ones needed to set up a new company: namely "risk propensity" and a willingness to try something new. Immigrants also tend to be better educated than average, have "unique knowledge," and to be able to call upon deep social networks, it says.

One way to support immigrant businesses would be a startup visa, which the tech industry has been pushing for. This would allow immigrants who come to work and study and then set up businesses to stay as long as they meet certain criteria: like raising a certain amount of capital or revenue or employing three or more people within two years of formation. Congress has discussed such a visa, but has yet to pass a bill. Fifteen countries, including Canada, the U.K., and New Zealand, already have such laws on their books.

"Immigrant entrepreneurs want to come to the United States; policy ought to facilitate this entrepreneurial growth that represents our past and future," says Emily Fetsch, a Kauffman researcher, in a blog post.

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