Although this month's meeting of the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness in Palo Alto gave little attention to the EB-5 visa, the potential for a new entrepreneur visa became a central element of the discussion.
The meeting's context was a public forum available for viewing via online broadcast. In addition to the topics of education reform and non-E visas, members of the audience asked questions and commented on the potential impact an entrepreneur visa would have on job creation and the future of the U.S. economy.
General consensus indicated support for some incarnation of such a visa.
Of particular note were comments from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, a panelist and proponent of immigration reform, and White House Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra. Both welcomed reforms that would clear prohibitive red tape for immigrant entrepreneurs as well as for immigrant investors.
AOL co-founder Steve Case, also a member of the panel, advocated not even waiting for Comprehensive Immigration Reform but enacting "entrepreneurship reform" to end the barriers to immigrant entrepreneurship immediately:
As proposed last year by Senators Kerry (D-MA) and Lugar (R-IN), an entrepreneur visa, also known as the Startup Visa, would re-allocate a portion of the 10,000 annually allotted EB-5 visas to a new category ? the EB-6 visa.
Unlike the EB-5 visa, recipients would be entrepreneurs who have already secured funding from U.S. venture capitalists. Visa holders would be actively involved in management of a new business based in the United States and would be required to create at least 5 new jobs within two years.
Last year's bill failed, but it has been reintroduced as the Startup Visa Act of 2011. Unfortunately for advocates, this year's bill would have to overcome many stumbling blocks to ultimately pass, several of which stem from the current debt crisis.
In a recent Entrepreneur magazine article, Diana Ransom explains why the Startup Visa Act may end up being "a non-starter:"
[T]he plan endorses the Obama Administration's call to make permanent the current capital-gains tax exemption for long-term investments in startups with less than $50 million valuation at the time of the investment, which is set to expire at the beginning of 2012 for investments. It also suggests implementing a 100 percent exclusion on corporate taxable income earned by qualified small businesses on the first year of taxable profit, which would precede two years with a 50 percent exclusion. [?] [G]etting lawmakers to adopt provisions that would trigger even a short-term expense at this point may be difficult.
In addition to last year's efforts to pass the Startup Act, the House also considered a similar visa program as part of Comprehensive Immigration Reform, a measure that also failed.
Regardless of what happens with this year's push for an entrepreneur visa, the EB-5 visa program is about to experience several welcome reforms. In comments toward the beginning of the meeting, Aneesh Chopra noted USCIS efforts to make the EB-5 immigrant investor program more attractive through introduction of premium processing.
Faster processing would make it easier for the EB-5 community, not to mention the U.S. economy, to reap the benefits of the EB-5 program. Implementation of the proposed changes is expected to begin by September of this year.
In spite of the changes that EB-5 proponents hope are coming, it's worth noting that audience members addressed the EB-5 visa too, albeit indirectly. In particular, one individual highlighted the desire to transition from an emphasis on "passive immigrants," those making passive EB-5 investments, to "active" foreign national entrepreneurs.
An entrepreneur visa may, in fact, ultimately become a more politically palatable visa category than the EB-5 in its current form.