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Outside the Box: The U.S. needs this job-creating visa option for immigrant entrepreneurs

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Congress recently passed a budget resolution that allocates $107 billion to fund immigration reforms. To maximize returns on this significant investment, Congress should create new opportunities for foreign-born entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses in the U.S. 

We know the long odds for immigrant innovators—because we faced them ourselves.

Growing up in Brazil, America was a land of opportunity; where we knew we could show up with nothing, and build something that lasts. We knew immigrants had founded titans like Google, SpaceX and PayPal. What we learned later is that half of domestic, high-growth companies in America today were founded by an immigrant or a child of an immigrant. As two coding-obsessed teenagers from families of modest means, we knew America was where we could take our love of technology to new heights.  

America has been everything we imagined and more. We were fortunate to earn student visas to attend Stanford, where we learned from world class professors and mentors. We took what we learned there to build our company Brex, which employs nearly 800 people. Brex’s mission is to help founders like us build their companies by offering the financial products and tools needed to run and grow their businesses.  

Lawmakers should also help these entrepreneurs too, by enacting laws that make it easier for them to start a company — and create jobs — in America. Unfortunately, right now that’s harder than ever. Today, innovators who are fortunate enough to earn a visa to start their business in the U.S. may not be able to stay in the US. Existing visa options are impractical and often inaccessible for entrepreneurs. Under the employer-sponsored H-1B visa for example, an innovator who left their U.S. employer to start their own business could be forced to leave the country. This and other restrictions attached to existing visa options may deter an untold number of founders from innovating here at all.

Just imagine writing a five-year plan for your company while not being certain if you can even stay to execute the plan.

This is why we support the Let Immigrants Kickstart Employment (LIKE) Act. Recently introduced by Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, it would create a new temporary visa option and open up a pathway to a green card and permanent residency for foreign-born entrepreneurs who bring promising startups to the U.S. 

Under the LIKE Act, entrepreneurs like us wouldn’t have to face the uncertainty associated with existing visa options and will be able to direct their time and energy into building their businesses and creating domestic jobs. 

To qualify for the LIKE Act’s three-year visa, entrepreneurs must have raised at least $250,000 in qualifying investments or $100,000 in government awards or grants for their business. Founders who continue to grow their company and meet specific benchmarks relating to capital, job creation or revenue growth are eligible to extend their visa by up to five years. The LIKE Act would also establish new procedures for founders who achieve additional growth-related benchmarks to obtain permanent resident status.

In other words, the LIKE Act ensures that entrepreneurs that have secured funding for their companies will come to the U.S. — and those who continue to succeed, create jobs, and grow the U.S. economy will stay.

We cannot afford to delay these reforms any longer, because the costs of further inaction are incalculable. According to the Kauffman Foundation, by creating just 75,000 startup visas, more than 1.6 million new jobs could be created over a 10-year period.

These reforms are necessary for the U.S. to maintain and extend its competitive edge. More than two dozen other countries, including Canada and Japan, have a formal startup visa program.

The benefits of creating new visa options for entrepreneurs will extend far beyond the innovators themselves. Our entire economy stands to gain from the supercharged commercial activity, job creation, and innovation fueled by the businesses that existing U.S. immigration policy turns away.

Growing up in Brazil, there was never a doubt in our minds that if we wanted to start and grow a big company, there would be no better place than the US. Like tens of thousands of scientists and engineers from the post-WWII era to the present, we made a beeline for the United States as soon as we could.

But the world is changing fast, and the next generation of entrepreneurs might not make the same choice if we remain so committed to barring the door. They might choose another country, or they might stay put — assuring that the next Google, SpaceX or PayPal will be founded in Canada, the U.K. or China. This is ever more true in an era of truly global remote work; when entrepreneurs can work from anywhere, we cannot take for granted they will voluntarily submit to the gauntlet of the U.S. immigration system.

The U.S. tends to think of immigration as a zero-sum game, that success for one means a loss for another. Or that one visa for an immigrant means one less job for a native-born American. It’s a puzzling view to people like us. We have witnessed firsthand, that success creates further success, and more talent means even more jobs created in the future.

For generations, America has been a magnet for talent and a place where anyone, from anywhere, can invent the future. Let’s do everything we can to make it more true than ever before. 

Henrique Dubugras and Pedro Franceschi are the co-founders of Brex, a San Francisco-based company.

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